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Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Why beautiful ideas fail

Question: What happened to our favourite arts and music café - Jojo's?
Answer: They stopped at 'Fun'.

Photo by Martha Mukaiwa 
More pics of the old Jojo's here

I walked in last week and instinctively sensed that something was wrong. I didn't drift into a dream space on the edge of my mind where anything was possible. No. I just stared out of the open windows to the offices of the Ministry of Defence. What was wrong? There was no music playing. Jojo's music and arts café and it was just the mundane buzz of afternoon traffic with no mini-gallery in the corridor and none of Isabel Katjavivi's arresting Mexico Blue House graphic prints and no sweet music filling the air. The magic is gone.

Jonas and Joolokeni brought urban culture to the café by investing in local talent. I went to Jojo's whenever I had a chance and frequently on my own - on a random Thursday or Friday evening when in the mood to mingle with strangers and see if anything was on (Slick the Dick on the mic? UNAM and Polytech students on date nights?) and also between runs to the College of the Arts or Uncle Spike's Book Exchange or buying school uniforms or hockey gear. It was one of my favourite places to disappear to when nobody would miss me. Gone are the days. I'm falling back on an old haunt and tourist beehive with enough tea and apple crumble to heal a broken heart.

So what's this 'Fun' I alluded to at the beginning? According to Les McKeown there are 7 stages every business goes through:
1. Early Struggle
2. Fun
3. White Water
4. Predictable Success
5. Treadmill
6. The Big Rut
7. Death Rattle

You'll want to avoid the last three. But you also don't want to bomb before stage 4. According to me, Jojo's got over the Early Struggle pretty quickly, reminding me of what celebrated restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson had to say to Fast Company on local eateries being spaces of reflection and restoration of the local culture. Jojo's succeeded in reaching the 'Fun' stage where they were the toast of the town. Literally - the December 2015 end of year The Namibian / Weekender bonus edition had almost everyone featured rating Jojo's the best spot in town. I wished we could have seen the original owners White Water the café's operations by professionalising, creating systems and processes that would allow them to employ a manager and ensuring its Predictable Success. Now it's... fancy food and no soul.

Oh well. All is not lost. At least Windhoek now has an ice-cream bar downtown. Let's please watch this local gem soar!