By Jaime Uranovsky
Rohit Kooverjee, affectionately known as ‘Roy’, of Babu’s Footwear is no stranger to the Cape Town Jewish community.
On the contrary, Roy says, “I don’t believe there’s one Jewish family that doesn’t know who I am or has never heard of me”. I am willing to bet that Roy’s assertion is correct, having been a regular at Babu’s during my own childhood. I remember the joy I felt upon my mom’s telling me we were going to Roy’s store and the many hours spent exploring the inside of the shop, salivating over one particular pair of bejewelled heels that I will never be able to forget, and which Roy kindly promised to put aside for me for until I was a grownup.
2021 marks an auspicious year for Babu’s as it celebrates its 100th year. Babu’s origin story paints a picture of resilience which explains how the store continues to thrive despite the immense challenges of COVID-19. In 1921, Roy’s grandfather, Nagar Kooverjee, arrived in Lourenço Marques (as it was then) from India before ending up in Park Road, Wynberg, trading as N. Kooverjee Boot and Shoemaker.
After trading for 18 years, Nagar and his wife tragically passed away within two years of each other, leaving thirteen-year-old Babu (Roy’s father) and his six sisters orphaned. To survive, the siblings went door-to-door looking for work to repair shoes. This was how the Kooverjee’s shoe business survived.
Later, Babu and his wife, Prabha, ran the store. In the late 1970s Roy and his brothers joined the business. Sadly, Babu passed away aged 59 in 1987. However, Roy’s mother, soon to turn 88, played a pivotal role in the business for 64 years until the advent of the pandemic when it was no longer safe for her to continue.
The business expanded in the ‘80s, opening a branch at the (then) Adelphi Centre in Sea Point. Rohit traded at the Sea Point branch, initially called Anthony’s Shoes, for nearly 35 years. The business became Babu’s and today the Gardens and Wynberg stores remain. Roy’s nephew has joined the business, taking Babu’s into its fourth generation.
Roy is grateful for the community’s support, “Thank you to the Jewish community who were exceptionally patriotic towards me… I’m born a Hindu but I was nicknamed to be a ‘Hind-Jew’.”
While the pandemic has presented challenges, Roy credits Babu’s ongoing success to various factors: “We have a very lucrative repair side so that’s keeping the fires burning, and we have people who send us work from all over the country. We run our business with a wealth of product knowledge, and service is our number one priority. Our family collectively go that extra mile to make sure that the client is satisfied and happy with what we offer, and that has helped us through this very trying period”. Indeed, to assist his elderly customers Roy has used Uber and courier services so that he can repair footwear without customers needing to leave their homes.
On being asked to share his fondest memories of Babu’s, Roy recollects the many hours he spent with his late father at the workshop where he was taught the art of shoe repair.
To celebrate 100 years, the Kooverjee family is conducting a massive charity drive to donate scarves, blankets and beanies to underprivileged people. The family has donated a vast number of items and will collect at their Gardens branch until the end of 2021.
Roy adds, “Let me wish all my Jewish friends and family and clients Chag Sameach for Rosh Hashanah and stay safe — that’s the most important.”
To contact Roy, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021 4651947.
• Published in the PDF edition of the September 2021 issue – Get the PDF here.
• Sign up for our newsletter and never miss another issue!
• Please support the Cape Jewish Chronicle with a voluntary Subscription. For payment info click here.
• Visit our Portal to the Jewish Community to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites.
Follow the Chronicle: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | LinkedIn