Disoufeng roadhouse (Disoufeng)
  • Roadhouse businesses are doing well under the pandemic compared to regular sit-down restaurants.
  • Some popular local eateries, which have been hard hit by the pandemic, have also adopted the roadhouse model to stay afloat. 
  • To spice things up, some roadhouse restaurants now offer movie screenings in their parking lots, and customers are flocking in.  
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Sit-down restaurants continue to battle as South Africa deals with a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, and strict regulations that have left the industry hard hit – but roadhouses have thrived.

Roadhouses, traditionally, are eateries that provide drive-in dining. While they usually offer take-aways as well, customers are served in their cars in parking lots as part of the experience.

Some popular roadhouses in South Africa include Kota Joe and Applebite in Edenvale, and in Cape Town, the likes of Burger Fair and Wembley have long been local legends.


Compared to sit-down restaurants, roadhouse restaurants have been doing fairly well during the pandemic, so much so that some traditional establishments have adopted the roadhouse models to keep their heads above water.

Recently, popular food franchise Ocean Basket adopted a roadhouse model at its Lagoon Drive, Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal, outlet. Ocean Basket CEO Grace Harding said the idea originally came from another franchisee, who did it at his restaurant in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo, according to Fin24.


Roadhouse success - a 30% spike in turnover 

Burger Box Roadhouse, a roadhouse and takeaway franchise in parts of Gauteng, has seen significant improvement in the performance of some of its roadhouses.

King de Castro, the main franchisee in the group, owns roadhouses in Krugersdorp and Benoni - both have seen significant improvements.

"In the higher or middle-class income bracket… we are actually up because a lot of other restaurants are closed, people still want takeaways or to sit in their cars and eat," he said.  

In February, the company launched another roadhouse in Centurion, which was well received by customers.

Burger Box Roadhouse Centurion (Burger Box)

"Since [level 4] started about four weeks ago, there is a hell of a spike, about a 25% to 30% spike. People have been coming back again. There is just nowhere to go and sit down and eat.

"Here they can sit down in their cars and eat, and get take-aways," said De Castro.

Although this side of De Castro's business has spiked, his biggest business in Pretoria West - a restaurant and sports bar - has been hit hard as customers battle the current economic climate. 

"I've also got restaurants but over there we have taken a hiding. Our turnover is down by 60% to 70%," he said.

Adopting the Roadhouse Model 

As some roadhouses continue to rake in the money, popular local eateries have taken notice.

Disoufeng, a local restaurant based in Soweto, started offering a roadhouse experience shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa was moving to Adjusted Level 4 lockdown, which included a ban on sit-in dining.

"Honestly [a roadhouse] wasn't part of our plan, but due to the situation that is happening right now, we had to make the business safe.

"We had to come with something to make sure our customers don't forget about the brand," said Benny Diphoko, the outlet's general manager.

He added, however, that while creating a roadhouse brought a bit of a relief to the African cuisine restaurant and pub based in Meadowlands, the business took a big hit due to the pandemic.

Disoufeng roadhouse (Disoufeng)

"The business is bleeding. We are a humble brand with loyal customers. Even with the restriction on the number of people allowed in the restaurant, people would queue outside and wait for others to finish.

"That is not happening anymore. The numbers have declined, and we are making a small profit on food. We're just keeping the business [afloat]," said Diphoko.

Movies for foodies 

Hillcrest Restaurant Roadhouse  in Cape Town added movies to its car-dining experience in July 2020.

The car-dining and movie night experience has boosted business quite significantly during the country's various stages of lockdown. Almost a year later, it remains quite popular.

Roadhouse Drive-In movies (Hillcrest Quarry Facebo
Roadhouse Drive-In diner (Hillcrest Quarry Facebook)

According to general manager Annita Thomas, "Last week we were sold out and this week, we were at 80% capacity," she said.

Although the company has seen some improvements, Thomas told Business Insider that before the pandemic, they made triple the turnover they are making now. The Roadhouse is based on Hillcrest Estate, which includes a boutique winery, as well as a restaurant and beer garden offering a selection of craft beer and gin. 

Hillcrest Restaurant Roadhouse (Hillcrest Quarry)

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