David Higgs and Gary Kyriacou complete each other’s sentences. They do that thing where one starts to say something, takes a breath and, without missing a beat, the other continues the thought.
Cozied up to them both, in the linen-booth seating at their first restaurant, Marble, I tease them that all signs point to a real bromance. They laugh — in sync, obviously — and chirp me right back: everyone says that, apparently.
Of course, it’s more than a love story. It’s simpatico. Which is ideal, given that the duo — one half star chef, one half big business type — are the men behind two of the most talked-about restaurants in the City of Gold.
There’s Marble, with its fire-cooked fare, ridiculously swanky interiors (the loos!), and a view that extends across to the West Rand on a clear day. It’s where the Big Smoke’s who’s who go to celebrate, be seen, and woo. Their new kid on the Sandton block, Saint, has been open for a few months, and you’re unlikely to get a table there unless you book way in advance. Swarms of Sandton office types descend on this vast Italian joint for lunch. At night, the in-crowd manifest for burrata and bubbly.
It all sounds outrageously glamorous but, when you’re employing around 300 people between two locations and you’ve got to deal with everything from stock management to staff issues, it is, well, not.
Especially given the environment in which they’re working. “People aren’t opening restaurants at all, never mind huge ones,” Kyriacou says sagely when I mention the economy.
But they have. Twice.
The partnership came by way of Higgs, then running 500 at The Saxon, selling his house, and meeting up via connections because of Kyriacou’s property business, Century 21 South Africa.
“Gary was immediately serious about the concept I had for a restaurant — he wasn’t going to just throw money at it. It impressed me,” Higgs says.
That was the easy bit. Marble’s construction was delayed by months. “We cancelled thousands of bookings, but eventually we just had to open. We simply couldn’t keep turning customers away,” both men explain.
It got worse. “I still think I have post-traumatic stress disorder from the opening night,” says an ordinarily robust Higgs. Everything that could go wrong did.
Opening Saint was a breeze, by comparison. Between the two projects they started a high-end butchery below Marble. It didn’t bring in the cash, so they closed it quickly and moved on. It’s still the space were the vast fortune of meat is kept for both restaurants.
With hindsight, the two laugh about it a lot. Kyriacou remembers Higgs lying on the floor the morning of Marble’s launch, screwing chairs together in a state of utter panic. In turn, Higgs recalls how, initially, patrons thought Kyriacou was the maître d’. Two years on, and he’s still inundated with hundreds of text messages and calls to his cellphone for reservations. “I pass them all on to the actual bookings team,” he says, laughing.
What’s next, I pry. “Just let us catch our breath and we’ll see,” they say, pretty much in unison.
Higgs’s new recipe book and memoire, Mile 8, will be out soon.