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Durban Morning Market: An appetite for the artisanal

Perhaps it’s a penchant for nature that has resulted in Jonathan Liebmann choosing environmental references for two of his best-known property investments. Maboneng, meaning “City of Light”, was a somewhat prophetic name for his earlier venture in which a once dormant district in downtown Johannesburg has become a thriving collection of retail stores, restaurants, a museum, apartment lofts, creative factory spaces, entertainment venues and hotels, stretching more than six blocks each way.

Liebmann’s new flagship venture, Market on Main, gives Joburgers an artistic alternative to suburban commerce. Running on Sundays from 10am to 3pm in Maboneng, the food and design destination has drawn such a dedicated following it now has a spin-off night market on the first Thursday of every month.

With the success of this area still shining bright, Liebmann has turned his eye to Durban, beginning with the Morning Trade — a Sunday market that will kick-start the current of Rivertown. Similar to the Maboneng model, plans are for the area around Morrison Street to develop into a creative neighbourhood. The market, which celebrated its one-month anniversary on September 4, has had a strong start and seen a swell of Durbanites enjoy the epicurean delights on offer.

Although the city already has the Fresh Fair Market in Westville, Shongweni Farmers Market in Assegay and the Essenwood Craft Market in Morningside, the Morning Trade is the only city-located weekly artisanal food market. Anna Savage, owner of the design-focused I Heart Market at Moses Mabhida Stadium, has added the Morning Trade to her portfolio.

It’s a full-circle moment for Savage, who has a long-standing culinary history. “I am a trained chef and worked in the food industry for many years including owning two restaurants of my own. Always up for a new challenge, I conceptualised the I Heart Market, which is a monthly design market that showcases local talents from fashion, jewellery, craft and homeware. I Heart Market has been running for almost six years now and so I decided to take the knowledge of running a market and fuse it with my passion for food and launch the Morning Trade.”

In the months building up to the launch of the market, Savage had to approach traders to convince them to sign up. Her renown with I Heart meant she was able to entice acclaimed traders such as artisan baker, cookbook author and former editor of Garden and Home Margaret Wasserfall. Fortunately for Savage and traders such as Wasserfall any reservations they might have had about the attraction of the market were quickly swept away.

“The highlight of our first Sunday of trading was the number of Durbanites that came to the market. It was a roaring success,” says Savage. “There is often a stigma attached to Durbanites that they do not support new ventures. Well, our opening proved that they are hungry for more exciting things to do in the city.” 

Growing crowds at the Morning Trade indicate that artisanal food is a strong pull. Savage says she’s encouraged by the number of stalls that have sold out their wares in the past few weeks. She’s also impressed with the support Durbanites have given the market. “It has been an interesting process observing the different types of customers that come to the market. We have realised that there are three different types of customers that come through and that we need to cater for.

“Firstly, there are the serious early morning shoppers. These are the people that don’t want to miss out on the cream of the crop. They are the serious grocery buyers that are stocking up their fridges with fresh, good-quality goods. Then there are the social customers who come to meet up with friends, eat breakfast and have a day out. The final type are the ones that come for the novelty factor. They have heard about the market and the Rivertown precinct and are curious to see what it’s all about. Our job is to provide for all these customers and encourage them to come back every Sunday.”

In response to the increase in numbers, and consequently the increase in the coffee queue, Savage has decided to bring in a second coffee retailer. It’s this sort of intervention that Savage hopes will ensure the Morning Trade survives the hype of it being new. “We want customers to be able to come and shop for most, if not all, of their groceries on a weekly basis. Recently, more and more people have become more discerning about the source and quality of their food produce and, by shopping locally, they are helping to build a better local economy while being able to chat to the actual producers. We focus on fresh, good-quality, locally produced foods. This is what we believe will make the Morning Trade a continued success.”

It hasn’t, however, all been smooth sailing. Having been part of the launch trading team, Dargyle Ducks is no longer at the market. It had a promising beginning, but was asked to leave after the second market day, says Dean de Chazal.

“From our farm, Shayile, it’s almost two hours to get to the Durban inner city, carrying all our stuff. It was a great start as we attracted huge amounts of people and I got to catch up with old friends I hadn’t seen in ages. We also sold out all our produce, which was a first.

“But there were hassles such as complying with codes like needing a 9kg fire extinguisher and fire blanket. We use a stainless steel table for carving and serving our duck and chicken, but the organisers insisted we have a colour-coded tablecloth. Both Sundays this became completely soiled with the juices of the meat. After the second market we were asked to leave.”

Dargyle Ducks is now at the Wonder Market on Sundays. Carin Robinson of Glenwood Bakery had a fantastic first day at the Morning Trade. “The highlights of our first Sunday trading was seeing and buying exquisite cheeses, being wedged between a family-run artisanal charcuterie company and a stall where one can buy quail eggs.”

Glenwood Bakery sold out all its breads, and has continued to attract ardent fans. Because they sell out every week, it’s hard for Robinson to identify their most popular products. “So far people buy what is available, but it is inspiring seeing people buy with such relish the sourdough breads, which are perhaps not as familiar as ciabattas.”

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