Before Ocean Basket opened its doors in 1995, only a handful of specialist restaurants offered seafood in South Africa, while fish and chips were largely served out of corner cafes. The Lazarides family not only saw the need to make seafood less extravagant and less out of reach, but also to make fish and chips a healthier, tastier option. Merging the two extremes under one family-friendly roof, they created a brand that ultimately changed the seafood dining culture in South Africa.
The market was clearly hungry for something different. The uptake was swift. Within a few months of opening, Ocean Basket knew it had hit a winning formula. Ocean Basket has a casual appeal, a firm sense of generosity and an absolute focus on seafood. The brand’s Mediterranean-inspired taste profile, and its generous servings of complimentary bread and sauces further added to an experience that made customers feel like a good friend had invited them to lunch. Within the first five years there were nearly 40 Ocean Basket stores in South Africa.
“Fats Lazarides spotted the opportunity in the market, and he made it work.” says Ocean Basket Company Leader Grace Harding. “He saw that nobody was making seafood sensational. He seized the chance to offer a protein that almost did not feature in the country. Even though the seafood industry is particularly challenging, and there were those who doubted his vision at the time, he decided that delicious and affordable seafood would be the focus from day one.”
Now with almost 200 Ocean Basket stores in 12 countries, consumers in South Africa have a heightened awareness of seafood as an everyday option. The steadily increasing demand for seafood in South Africa is fuelling an aggressive growth of competing seafood and fish and chips outlets in the casual dining sector while other restaurants are actively expanding the number of seafood options on their menus.
Harding says, “People are more health-conscious than ever before. They may be time-starved, but they’re definitely thinking about what they’re putting into their bodies. Seafood is a healthy choice for people of all ages. It’s an excellent source of protein that’s full of nutrients, low in fat, low in calories, and it tastes out of this world. We introduced everyday South Africans to seafood, and now they’re asking for more.”
Passionate about seafood in all its forms, Ocean Basket then set its sights on sushi. The brand saw an exciting and contemporary seafood category that was reserved for the few. In an endeavour to make sushi available to everyone, Ocean Basket once again led the way and introduced budget-friendly sushi to its menu in 2006. The move solidified Ocean Basket as the expert in seafood and proved so successful that within just a few short years, every new Ocean Basket store was built with a sushi bar.
In 2013, after months of intensive research, preparation, and specialised training in Japan, Ocean Basket launched a daring new sushi menu that featured spiced, cooked, and even fried signature sushi dishes. While Ocean Basket’s famous platters and its fish and chips dish remain firm favourites, sushi currently makes up for 12% of the company’s turnover and continues to grow.
As steadfastly dedicated to sustainable growth as it is to its generous portions, in March 2014 Ocean Basket publicly announced its commitment to sustainable and responsible fishing. The company promised to only serve seafood and fish products that are sourced from responsible fisheries, certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), or categorised as Green by SASSI.
Harding says Ocean Basket’s growth is always informed by sustainability, customers, and product. “Our suppliers must be responsible, our product must be perfect, and our customer must be ecstatic. And sure, these customers may now have more seafood restaurant choices than ever before – it just means that we have to stay relevant and keep showing our customers how devoted we are. We have to keep listening to them, and we have to keep giving them what they want. Generously.”
Ocean Basket is the bold brand that decided to serve delicious, abundant, and affordable seafood to everyday people. With all the flavour and without all the fuss.
What began as one small restaurant in 1995 has now grown to become the country’s largest seafood restaurant chain with a 60% market share in its niche in South Africa. With almost 200 stores in 12 countries from Durban to Dubai, Nelspruit to Nigeria, Ocean Basket serves over one million meals every month, and has won Leisure Options Best Seafood Restaurant in Johannesburg for 14 years running.
Ocean Basket is the only casual dining restaurant in South Africa to exclusively serve seafood, and remains as dedicated to its customers as it is to our oceans. Ocean Basket supports SASSI and has promised to solely serve sustainable seafood by 2017.
Known for dishing up heavenly seafood in generous portions, Ocean Basket serves up an imaginative spread of dishes from its famous fish and chips and generous seafood platters to seared-salmon salads and spicy sushi.