It's a tale every aspiring restaurateur wants to tell: Test out a pop-up, and receive positive feedback; start a food truck, and get critical acclaim; then find a space, and open a restaurant, all within a year.
"It started with a joke and now it's not a joke," said John Hicks, who, by July or August, will open South African restaurant Jozi's Kitchen & Shebeen in Parker with his brother Chef Angus Hicks, formerly of Potager and Chinook Tavern.
The Hicks brothers were born in Johannesburg (nickname: Jozi) and grew up eating street food that mirrored the complex history of South Africa. "A true melting pot," is how John refers to the cuisine, which includes French, Dutch, African, Malay, and Indian influences. The term "shebeen" comes from South African speakeasies, where migrant workers once gathered for food and beer.
While Angus has been in the restaurant industry here in Denver for more than a decade, John just recently moved from New York where he worked as a litigation consultant. The pair started a South African biltong (jerky) company called Mile High Dry Goods. Then they opened a pop-up shack in TheBigWonderful. A food cart followed and quickly won acclaim for its "bunny chow" curries, "monkey gland" (South African barbecue) burgers, and borewors and pap (farm sausage served over maize meal). Now they're expanding the menu into a 2,200-square-foot space at 10971 S. Parker Rd.
"This is the problem with South African cooking: We have curries that we call 'bunny chow,' we also have something called 'monkey gland sauce,'" John said. "Now we have to put a disclaimer on the menu: No monkeys no glands."
While diners might be surprised by some of the names, the dishes are often reminiscent of more familiar flavors, such as Indian, according to John. Some might recognize the particular heat of peri peri chicken, which is also found in Portuguese cuisine. Jozi's signature dinner dish will be the potjie, consisting of braised ox tail, lamb shank, or beef short rib, cooked low and slow in a typical African cast iron pot.
The restaurant format will be counter-service, but it will also feature chef's and community tables. Chutneys, jams, jerkies and sauces will be sold from a small corner shop.