The Paulaner Bräuhaus closed its doors suddenly last night, after operating for more than ten years in the Clocktower section of the V&A Waterfront.  It was the largest restaurant in Cape Town, this country, and the southern hemisphere, with 1100 seats.  The restaurant and micro-brewery were closed down by its new owners Hospitality Property Fund Limited (HPF) due to an inability to reach consensus with the V&A Waterfront on an acceptable market value rental for the renewal of the five year lease.

The Paulaner Bräuhaus lease runs out at the end of March.  I was told that the rental, currently at about R250000 per month, would increase to double that of the most expensive Johannesburg rentals per square meterage, and would be double the current rental.  No amount of negotiation with the management of the V&A Waterfront could result in a reduced rental.  The owners of HPF decided to not prolong the running of the restaurant until the end of March, and informed the Paulaner management a week ago that the whole restaurant and micro-brewery operation would close down last night.  Staff were told on Wednesday, and customers were informed via Facebook as follows on Friday:

Dear Paulaner Patrons, Please take note that as a result of our lease at the V&A Waterfront having come to an end, the week of 13 February will be the last week of trading by the Paulaner Bräuhaus. Our doors will be closing indefinitely on Sunday, 19 February 2012 at 22h00. We invite you to make use of this opportunity to visit us for a last taste of our renowned and award-winning beers and popular food menu. It is with great sadness that we, the management and staff of the Paulaner Bräuhaus have to bid you farewell. We would like to thank all our loyal supporters over the years – it has been a pleasure serving you! PROST! Paulaner Bräuhaus Management and Staff”.

I went to Paulaner yesterday afternoon, and given the hot weather and the last date of operation, the restaurant was jam-packed, many coming to pay their last ‘respects’ to a restaurant that was the epitome of Bavarian beer and food.  There was a lovely atmosphere, and there must have been many tears at 22h00 when they closed the Paulaner doors for the last time.  On Twitter one could read how many Twitterers had gone to Paulaner, and how sad they were about the closure.   Mayor Patricia de Lille had come as well, and told a waitress that she was prepared to toi-toi to keep the restaurant open.  Initially a manageress told me that there was no comment about the closure, and that the GM Jan-Karl Schiebe could not speak to me about it either.  He did however come over to me, being very hesitant about sharing any information with me, until he worked out who I am from Twitter.  Then everything changed.

HPF Limited did not entertain a management buy-out, nor extending the closing date by a week at least, so that a Farewell Beer Festival could be held next week, at the request of the Paulaner management.  HPF Limited bought Paulaner Bräuhaus Restaurant and the Micro-Brewery, the Westin Grand at the Convention Centre (now Westin Cape Town), and Arabella Hotel & Spa in Kleinmond last year.   The hotel and leisure property company is involved in 26 properties to the value of R 3,9 billion, says its website, including a number of Protea Hotels, and the Mount Grace Country Hotel.  There is no mention of Paulaner on the HPF website.

Today the Paulaner branding will be removed, the furniture will be removed, the windows will be covered in newspaper, and the interior will be restored to how it was handed over to Paulaner in 2001, when Paulaner started off under the guidance of brewmaster Wolfgang Ködel, who has been involved in the business throughout this period.  Clients of Paulaner beer will fetch what beer is left over today. I spoke to Allée Bleue GM Wolfgang Leyrer yesterday morning about the effect the demise of Paulaner will have on his business, being a stockist, and he was shocked to hear the news, not having received any notification about it.  Given the outpouring of support, both on Facebook and Twitter, and also at the restaurant, one can only hope that the management will obtain a franchise from Paulaner in Munich, to set up a restaurant and a brewery with more reasonable rentals elsewhere in Cape Town.

The closure of the Paulaner Bräuhaus Restaurant and Micro-Brewery is a sad day for Cape Town – it was an attraction for German tourists who know the brand from Munich, where it was established in 1634.  They loved its genuine German beer and food, with Bavarian music to match, and the female staff wearing the traditional Bavarian Dirndl.  It helped the V&A Waterfront to attract visitors to a part of the Waterfront that was an effort to get to, being across the Swing Bridge, and not visible from the shopping centre, and is only visited by those tourists going to Robben Island.  It will leave a gaping hole in an area of the V&A Waterfront that already does not attract locals.

Attempts to receive a comment from the V&A Waterfront company have not been successful to date.

POSTSCRIPT 21/2: The Cape Argus has written about the Paulaner closure today, and quotes from our blogpost.  The journalist Murray Williams was luckier in receiving a comment from the V&A Waterfront: “The V&A Waterfront’s leasing department was advised by HPF in April last year that they would not be exercising their option to renew the lease agreement for the Paulaner Bräuhaus property. The HPF did not negotiate the lease agreement for the Paulaner Bräuhaus. The V&A Waterfront is negotiable on its property rentals”. HPF spokesperson Andrew Rogers tells a different story: “The V&A did not want to consider alternative leasing options and whilst the rentals were unsustainable for any business of this nature based on the historic escalations, the period was always expiring in March 2012.  The closure process has been under way for the past six months, always with the hope that the V&A would reverse their thinking in terms of the lease and operations, and that they would entertain offers for a similar type of operation.  However, it was not the case and it was finally decided to comply with the terms of the lease and vacate the premises”.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage