Hello, Lola!

Lisa Morel is a treat, and you can tell just by looking at her: cropped blonde hair, baby pink nails, hot pink lips and a colourful row of birds tattooed up her right arm. As she sits down, crossing her hands over a white porcelain plate, a silver skull ring glints in the muted overhead light. She smiles, and behind her smile is a wealth of joy, pain and experience. She shares her amazing story.

I have always loved people,” is the first thing Lisa says; she keeps repeating it, in fact. And that is the core of her being. Her journey to owning the quaint Lola’s Bistro at The Quarter Hotel on Florida Road began in a caravan, in her backyard, when she was eight years old. “I took things from the house and set up shop, then forced my family to walk around buying things. I also made them drink this awful, milky tea I had made,” she wrinkles her nose. “I’d even leave the gate open in case passers-by wanted to shop with me, too!” The dream of owning a coffee shop strengthened, and Lisa spent her spare time helping her father out at his business: the first coffee shop at the Durban Magistrate’s Court, called The Legal Bean. At 14, she worked part time at her local Spar. “Not because I had to,”
Lisa points out. “It was because I genuinely wanted to be around people all the time.”

Lisa got married young, at 18 years old, and moved to Geneva, Switzerland with her husband. She took a job as a teaching assistant, but in her spare time investigated the local coffee culture. “I found the coffee shops somewhat lonely. You’d go in, have your coffee and leave. So I visited Starbucks often; I could sit there and read a book when I wanted to.” She moved to London a few years later and found the coffee shops there to be at the forefront of new trends. “It was amazing. They displayed a love for good coffee and the diversity was something else; here, the ability to create is kind of stifled. In London, it’s encouraged, which was fulfilling for me.”

A decade later, at 28, the marriage ended and Lisa – in her own words – found herself with ‘nothing’. “For the first
time in a while, I had to go deep into myself and figure out what I wanted to do. I knew what that was…move back
home and open my coffee shop.” Lisa worked three jobs: as a teaching assistant, nanny and babysitter, and every
penny went into her coffee shop dream. She did a barista course and in 2014, shortly after she came back home, the
opportunity to make her dream a reality presented itself. Coastlands Hotel in Umhlanga needed a replacement for
what was previously Café G. Lisa, with the help of her good friend Gary Halfpenny, started to think of a name
for the new spot. He suggested she use her nickname for the coffee shop.“I’d been called Lola by a friend, rather
randomly. It stuck, and sounded like a good name for a coffee shop!”


Lola’s Coffee Shop gained popularity fast, with its confectionaries and legendary coffee. But the happiness was short-lived – Coastlands ended Lisa’s lease within a year to open their own, in-house coffee shop. “I was temporarily thrown, but it was going to work out. I knew it would. I think I’m driven by blind ambition,” Lola cups her chin in her fist. “Inside, I know everything will be okay. Or not. But even if things aren’t okay, then I will be okay. If that was the end of my dream then at least I had tried.”

But it wasn’t the end: Lisa was approached by The Quarter to open a fine dining restaurant in the hotel. She made the difficult decision to close Lola’s Coffee Shop three months early and open Lola’s Bistro in November last year. “I
closed the coffee shop on Saturday afternoon and did my first breakfast at the bistro on Sunday morning,” Lisa
smiles widely. Then, she nods knowingly. “It was very difficult. It still is challenging…I’ve never worked in fine dining and didn’t know the first thing about running a restaurant during December, of all times.”

Lisa’s goal is to create something different; a variation of fine dining Durban is yet to see. “I’m not the chick who does well with 12 knives in front of me. I like good food and great company. So, here at Lola’s I want to serve elegant food in a setting that isn’t stuffy or pretentious.” Over the last two months, Lisa says she and her staff have ‘paid their school fees’, riding out complaints, bad reviews and more than a few hiccups. “But now we have an idea of who we are, and who we want to be. I want Lola’s to be the place people come to for everything: baby showers, birthdays, anniversaries, after work drinks, anything.”

With a seasonal menu changing every three months, intensive branding and a formidable kitchen – her head chef worked with Gordon Ramsey – Lisa, and Lola’s Bistro, are on their way. “I have found there is no pride in owning and running a restaurant; only passion. Whenever I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I remind myself that it’s okay. Life is what it is…I will hold my head high and walk the long road ahead with relish. I’m excited!”

Lola’s Bistro
Tel 031 828 7011
Address: The Quarters Hotel, Florida Road

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