Closing during the pandemic was tough for every business but reopening after the pandemic is a new challenge businesses at Wits must now face.

Zesti Lemonz café has reopened with an adjusted menu to continue operating, prompted by the resumption of in-person learning at Wits.  

The café, along with all other businesses at Wits, was forced to close after the university halted all in-person activities due to the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. As a result of the decision three outlets on campus – Theo’s, Sizzlers and Nino’s – closed permanently.  

Zesti Lemonz, on Wits West campus, reopened in March 2022. It sells a selection of takeaway light meals such as burgers, toasted sandwiches, pies and wraps. It also sells a variety of hot and cold beverages.

Owner Rita Berdanis has implemented changes to ensure the café survives. The café cut off menu items not essential for the majority of customers. This was also done to reduce costs associated with offering a larger range of food. 

Berdanis said “we need to be strategic in what menu items we offer” in hopes of continuing to operate. Work has also been reduced to a single shift in order to log fewer hours. 

According to Berdanis, the university continued to charge the café for rental space despite it not operating. Luckily, however, at the end of 2021 the university refunded the full rental cost. Berdanis said prior to this “we were ready to walk away”. Karen du Plessis, an employee of the Wits services department, said “the rent was written off”. Wits did grant rent reprieve to small business owners on campus for 2020 and 2021. 

Berdanis said she loves working with students and that is what motivates her to continue running her business. An employee, Noku Ncube, said she enjoys serving customers, especially the regulars. She said she feels like a proud parent when regulars graduate. Ncube also loves that the Zesti staff has become like family, and she is grateful to her boss for checking on her and helping her financially through the pandemic. 

Nicole Nunes, a regular customer at Zesti Lemonz, said, “Zesti Lemonz is practical, convenient [and] a nice place to hang out and wait for lectures.” She also says the menu offers more options and is fairly priced compared to competing outlets. Another customer, Chris Marlow, said “everything is great” but he particularly enjoys being able to sit and work while delighting in food and coffee.  

FEATURED IMAGE: The outside of the reopened Zesti Lemonz café with customers enjoying food and a conversation. Photo: Colin Hugo