Allen Ambor founded Spur Steak Ranches in 1967 when he invested R4000 to open the Golden Spur in Newlands, Cape Town.
After he opened the second restaurant in Sea Point, he decided that franchising was the best option to grow the business, which listed on the JSE in 1986. When Ambor retired as executive chairman of the Spur Corporation in March 2019, the business had grown to an empire that included more than 500 franchises under the Spur, Panarottis, John Dory’s and RocoMamas brands.
In October last year, he published a memoir, A Taste for Life, How the Spur Legend was Born. Readers meet Allen, only child to German Jewish immigrant parents who found themselves at the foot of the African continent after fleeing Nazi Germany.
We accompany him on his inspiring journey from a carefree childhood in 1940s Johannesburg, through student days performing on stage, waitering part-time in Johannesburg’s first real steakhouse, and walking the streets of London as a fabric sales representative; to an impressively clear understanding of his own place in the world as he recognises the restaurant environment as his ‘happy place’.
He proceeds with admirable enthusiasm, self-assurance and optimism to throw himself into the dream of bringing to Cape Town the steakhouse concept that only existed in Johannesburg at the time.
In 1967, at the tender age of 26, his choice of Newlands in the southern suburbs of Cape Town as the location for his first restaurant is one of many instances where his natural business instincts, and his ability to trust his gut are evidenced. Defying naysayers, he understood that the family-oriented nature of the neighbourhood, with five schools in the vicinity, and the proximity to the cricket ground and rugby stadium made it a perfect place to open a restaurant.
The Golden Spur in Newlands was an instant success, and went on to achieve iconic status and occupy a special place in many a Capetonian’s lifestory in the ensuing years.
In engaging narrative, Allen goes on to tell of his entrepreneurial journey, and how he grew and nurtured his business, always staying faithful to his core values of hard work, impeccable standards, attention to detail and his understanding of the importance of relationships — with customers, colleagues and staff — as the most important element of growing and sustaining a successful business.
But this book is not just a fairy-tale scenario of one man’s success and good luck. Through inevitable highs and lows, successes, missteps and misfortunes, it is Allen’s ability to recognise the problems and rectify them; and his focus on the bigger picture that makes this book such an inspirational read.
Allen, the first person protagonist, is good company! His positive outlook and authenticity keep him focused on the things that make him happy and that he’s good at. His account of his adoption of Iyengar yoga as an integral part of his life, is an example of this.
Since retiring, he continues to live in Cape Town, and practice and teach Iyengar yoga. And he’s written a book of course.
A Taste for Life is available at Exclusive Books, Wordsworth, The Book Lounge, Loot and Takealot.
• Published in the PDF edition of the February 2022 issue – Click here to get it.
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