It's been 20 years of madness, of sharing, of family, of generosity and of love. 1995 started with a dream to create a seafood restaurant that not only served fresh, deliciously cooked seafood but that inspired waves of happiness from coast to coast. Two decades later and Ocean Basket - South Africa's most loved seafood restaurant - is celebrating their 20th birthday this September.
While some sail through life never truly finding their sea legs, for brothers Fats and George Lazarides that simply wasn't an option. They believed that they could achieve the seemingly impossible. Their goal was to open a seafood restaurant that was unlike any other. It wouldn't be reserved for the rich and famous. It wouldn't serve tiny morsels of prawn and crab on small plates either. No, Fats and George wanted to create a place where each and every diner felt at home. A place that served affordable and generous portions that filled bellies and created smiles. A place where you could be yourself and have a whale of a time.
The Lazardies brothers opened the very first Ocean Basket on 10 September 1995, in Menlyn Park Centre, Pretoria. Everyone said a seafood restaurant wouldn't last two minutes in this country, with South Africans hungered more towards pizza, pasta, beef and chicken. The brothers simply shrugged off any negative remarks thrown their way and kept firmly focussed on their dream. Ocean Basket Menlyn had just six tables, crammed into 60 square metres, but despite a lack of space there was never a lack of seafood. Even though the menu only offered a handful of dishes, including prawns, hake, calamari and Kingklip, each dish was generously and meticulously prepared with passion and with love. It wasn't long before news of this new loud, crazy, Mediterranean deli and restaurant travelled and everyone from Dubai to Durban, Nelspruit to Nigeria, wanted their own delicious piece of seafood heaven on their back door.
"The story of Ocean Basket is remarkable in the fact that one small brand that started with very little 20 years ago has been able to adapt and evolve, while still holding onto its dynamic entrepreneurial spirit," says Grace Harding of Ocean Basket. "It's Ocean Basket's fighting spirit that has catapulted seafood into a dominant protein in South Africa. While it's easy to follow the masses Ocean Basket stayed focussed on our core line and has remained persistence to that focus throughout the years. Our love for seafood turned out to be the key to our success."
Harding says one of the most exciting things about Ocean Basket's culture is how progressive the brand is. "Ironically, what makes us interesting is actually the simplicity of our business. We are committed to the journey we started. We are small and agile and that allows us to build a business that is hierarchy free. We believe in family values and those value are extended to our staff. 26 staff members have been with Ocean Basket for almost 20 years because they are made to feel valued and appreciated and are given the chance to grow within the company. Another of our success is the ownership of supply of the product and the continuous support that we offer our franchisees. While many businesses are focussed on big numbers, at Ocean Basket it's not about the numbers but about how you succeed in being relevant."
And relevant Ocean Basket is. In spite of tough economic times, with many franchises closing down, Ocean Basket has opened almost 200 restaurants in 12 countries around the globe. Considering the first Ocean Basket was opened 20 years ago, this translates to 10 restaurants a year – impressive growth for any business. On any given day, each is filled with people who share the same passion - an unwavering love for Ocean Basket's delicious seafood. Ocean Basket's international footprint is set to continue to grow considerably in the next few years as the interest internationally has caught on quickly. With this growth in mind, Ocean Basket continues to look towards the future.
"Our goal has always been to create a globally loved, recognised and respected brand. We do believe that we have what it takes to be the seafood leaders and why not? There is no one else providing affordable seafood, every day," says Harding. "So today we celebrate Ocean Basket's journey. 20 Incredible years. We toast to a dream that, against many seemingly impossible odds, became a reality. While there are many fish in the sea - countless restaurants that offer good quality food - none come close to Ocean Basket's generosity, commitment to every day value for money and our mad love of seafood sharing."
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.