16 April 2024

South African cafe and grocery store Big Five Lapa built on lion-sized heart and pride of heritage

| Kellie O'Brien
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various meats cooking over a wood fire

It’s not just the mouthwatering barbecue meats that have earned Big Five Lapa the tick of approval from the locals – it’s their community spirit, too. Photo: Supplied.

Six months ago, William Plotz and his father Johan opened South African cafe and grocery store Big Five Lapa in Woonona, honouring their heritage and servicing what has become a “massive” South African community in the Illawarra.

However, there’s also a great generosity and lion-sized heart behind what they do, from the menu created to incorporating a Pay It Forward wall.

Johan owned South African grocery store Ossewa Meats in Camden, where he made South African sausage boerewors and meat snacks biltong and droewors.

“He ended up selling to my brother and we moved here and basically opened up something that I always wanted to do, which was low and slow food,” William said of the South African style of cooking.

“So we’ve done that with the combination of the South African groceries and products.”

He said the cafe offered brisket burgers, pulled pork, chicken wings, ribs, cheeseburgers and other items commonly seen in cafes.

“On the South African side, we have traditional sausage boerewors, which we make here,” he said.

“We’ve got a Russian and chips, which is like a Kransky on top of a bed of chips with salt and vinegar.

“Then we’ve got something called the Bunny Chow, which is just a Durban curry put in a quarter loaf of bread that’s hollowed out.”

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He said while it wasn’t a large menu, it was a simple and easy one that was well received by Illawarra’s “massive” South African community and others.

“We decided to do simple food that’s not overpriced,” he said of it being a small family business with himself and his mum and dad all working together.

“We’re just getting by ourselves, but we’re not here for the money, it’s just because it’s a passion that we both have.

“Dad, he loves making boerewors and biltong and South African products and I love cooking, so we’re just combining both and making people happy.”

Inside the store, customers have generously paid for coffees and food, pinning their receipts to a Pay It Forward wall for others to use and enjoy.

While William admitted not everyone was comfortable taking a receipt, he had contacted community groups to encourage them to make use of the offer.

He said one community-based worker’s clients were regulars.

“They take him out for lunch once a week and he brings them in and they then choose something off the board,” he said.

Having moved to Australia in 1999, William said his culinary skills came from learning to cook at a young age.

“I’ve been in hospitality most of my life and been smoking meat for over 16 years, so it’s been natural for me to do this,” he said.

“It’s just really a passion that’s taken off.

“It’s strange because I never thought I would actually do it, but here I am.”

William’s culinary skills have led him to become a pit master, competing in barbecuing contests around Australia.

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“Next weekend I’m actually competing at Meatstock in Sydney,” he said of the music and barbecue festival from 19-21 April.

“I don’t do them very often anymore, but I do OK. I’m usually in the top 15 out of the 60 teams that are there.

“And they’re all very renowned for what they do – these guys travel the world.

“I do low and slow and I do live fire cooking, where you hang your meat or cook it over a grill or fire.”

He said long term, they wanted to expand the cafe, with a little bar out the back where people could hang out on the weekends with live music to create a more relaxed atmosphere.

And the name Big Five Lapa?

“Basically, big five is the big five animals from Africa,” he said.

“I’ve got a barbecue team called Big Five Barbecue, and then my dad wanted to have lapa, which is a gathering place for people to eat, talk and basically just hang out.

“So we combined the two and that’s how it came about.”

Big Five Lapa is at 347-349 Princes Hwy, Woonona, and can be found on Facebook.

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