Escrito por: Jane Ryan
From humble beginnings, Jeffrey Waldman left his native Zimbabwe to train as a cocktail bartender in South Africa. Now he's preparing to return to his home country - but he's taking cocktail culture with him.
A themed cocktail bar in my home city of Bulawayo is a foreign concept. But I have a dream of my bar there, a small relaxed cantina with outstanding tequila, well-made cocktails and craft beer. I want to bring Mexico to Zimbabwe. Opening my own bar is certainly something that makes me nervous, scared even, but equally I'm excited to be going back. I left Bulawayo six years ago and although the infrastructure still remains the same there have been a few changes, people are returning and investing in the city. I hope my dream really does work out.
My daily life in Jo'burg is a bit different from bartenders in London or New York, I think. After leaving my last job I work at the Hogs Head in north Johannesburg, it's a pub-style bar, with a focus on beer but with plenty of classic cocktails such as Mojitos and Margaritas. What makes it different is I don't have a basic salary but work off commission. I get 5% of everything I sell, plus my tips, so while it's a long working day it doesn't make much sense for me to take a break until I'm done at 2am. So long as the bar is busy it works well.
Recently I competed in the Tahona Society Cocktail Competition in Mexico and I know now that for my bar in Bulawayo I want a cantina-style venue that showcases great tequila. I'm still working to convince my partner - he didn't witness what I did, but my experience in places like La Capilla cemented my concept.
I think my bar will be the first of its kind. In my town there are bars where people go to listen to music or clubs but there isn't a bar where people can go and see a different culture or drink great cocktails. Usually the drinks are beer or simple spirit and mixers. I want to find a market for Mexico and tequila in my city, and I'm sure I can do that.
Right now I'm looking a lot to Julio Bermejo who runs Tommy's in San Francisco and who really inspires me. I'm hoping to stock his wive's family's tequila, Tapatio Reposado, and importing it to Zimbabwe shouldn't be too difficult. I can always bring stuff across the border: South Africa isn't too far a stretch for bringing in quality spirits.
Working in Johannesburg has definitely changed my life. There wasn't much chance of a good job in Zimbabwe for me when I left in 2007, but my first job in South Africa was a far cry from where I am now, as a rigger putting up signs and billboards, incredibly unsafe work. South Africa really helped me and I want to pay that on and create employment for people in Bulawayo, make someone else's life a bit better - seeing as you can't find cocktails there now I'm going to have to train someone with all the knowledge I have gained here.