Since it was first established in the 1860s after the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town has become a major trading port, growing steadily over the next century-and-a-half into one of the continent’s most visited sites,
 as it welcomes over 24 million visitors every year. Over the last century, the Waterfront has become a centre point of sorts where culture, craft and trade converge. The most recent addition to this 123-hectare complex is Makers Landing, a fresh, innovative initiative dedicated entirely to nurturing the local food industry by giving up-and-coming growers and makers a springboard from which to launch their careers and businesses. We caught up with the Makers Landing team to find out more about the Waterfront’s hottest new foodie haven. 

What was the inspiration behind Makers Landing? 

Westleigh Wilkinson (Project Lead): Several years ago, the CEO was at a conference in North America where he first heard of La Cucina, an initiative that supported predominantly female immigrants to build and grow their food businesses. It sparked an idea! There was nothing like it in South Africa, so it was an opportunity to create a space that represented South African food culture and our rich culinary heritage. Much like the Watershed (a space hosting 150 tenants that offer a range of crafts, from jewellery, fashion and textiles to homeware) is to crafts, Makers Landing builds on that success and layers it with additional components of mentoring, incubation, and public cooking and thought-leadership workshops. 

How does the concept differ from something like Oranjezicht City Farm (also at the V & A complex) 

Hannerie Visser (Lead Curator): While OZCF operates predominantly as a market that opens a few days a week. Makers Landing is home to 8 small-scale producers within the food ecosystem. They operate their space 6-7 days a week – baking, roasting, and brewing for their wholesale business – and who run their businesses within a larger community of restaurants, bars and small eateries. This approach also democratises access to our ecosystem, where we have industry experts who come from all walks of life, but who are authentically local and keep us true to our core values. 

How does the food incubator work? 

WW: We have jointly developed an accelerated learning programme for food businesses. Our partners, LaunchLabs in Stellenbosch University – along with some key industry players – have helped design a 6-month programme that will take small ventures step-by-step through the process of building a successful and sustainable food business. We take a small number of early-stage companies (under 3 years old, but that have some sales track record) through 6 months of online learning, and give them access to large industrial kitchen facilities, mentors, coaches and market space at Makers Landing to test their proucts and to ensure they have product market fit. 

 In time, we hope to provide a space where food businesses can scale rapidly without the need to overextend themselves with loans or digging into their life savings. By providing access to our established network of potential buyers, we hope to help them grow and scale. And if they are not successful, our programme allows them to pivot into something that is sustainable and aligns with their goals and vision. Ideally, we would love to create several businesses, who can grow into large scale restaurants to be housed at the Waterfront or across Cape Town, or perhaps find their products on the shelves in Woolies and Pick ‘n Pay.

How does Makers Landing help local communities? 

HV: We want to disrupt the conventional approach to building food businesses by democratising access into Makers Landing, and hope that the businesses who are successful, will have a downstream impact. More actively, we support smallscale farmers through Umthunzi and we hope to open up the Flexi Market in the future (once we move out of the various levels of lockdown). More and more smallscale food start-ups and concepts will have access the amazing location of the V&A at Makers Landing. 

As a concept that was spawned during the Covid-19 pandemic, what role did our new way of life play in the design of the Makers Landing experience? 

WW: Covid, without a doubt, played a role in how we launched and how we operate day-to-day. What it has shown us is that you have to build a multichannel approach to reach customers. While many of our supporters come back almost every weekend, there are many that still haven’t been out for fear of crowds. But we are building our online stores and delivery systems and brainstorming new ideas to give customers a unique Makers Landing experience, even if they are not ready to come and see us.