The Art of Restaurateuring – A Rockets Story


Set within the affluent suburb of Bryanston, Rockets restaurant is the pièce de résistance of a brand that has been pleasing palates and partygoers since 2007. We spend an afternoon with the man behind the brand.

By: Liesl Frankson 

Sean Barber is a man of many words which comes as no surprise since he is well on his way to building an empire in the hospitality industry, but just below the entertainer’s exterior is an authenticity that permeates through his brand.

As he walks us through the four-story restaurant and bar it’s not hard to see why this place is so popular. Every inch of the restaurant is well thought out and the décor, which can only be described as industrial chic, includes a lot of raw industrial elements juxtaposed with indoor greenery.

Throughout the building, you will find carefully selected décor items and elements, like a 140-year-old door from Indonesia or a giant table fashioned from a reclaimed tree, that adds a special character to the space.

Art and Hospitality

The Native American Culture and the values they hold dear are a source of inspiration for Sean owner of a  Rockets Bryanston Photo: Gemma Garman Photography
One of the handcrafted murals in the restaurant. The Native American Culture and the values they hold dear are a source of inspiration for Sean. Photo: Gemma Garman Photography

Sean is also big on art, which is not hard to miss looking at the breath-taking, handcrafted mural of a Native American woman that covers two floors.

I love art, and you will see that all through the restaurant. Art in its most dynamic form is hospitality if you think about it,” he notes.

“If you think about what art is, it’s a medium that an artist uses to appeal to one or more of your senses, so a painter uses sight, a sculptor uses sight and to a certain extent touch. If you’re in hospitality you’re in the business of appealing to all 5 senses.

“It’s what the food looks like on the plate, it’s what it tastes like, it’s the ambiance created by the music and the feel of the décor, how the chairs and tables feel. The reality is that we are in the business of sensory restaurateuring,” he explains.

This philosophy is part of the reason Rockets Bryanston is an award-winning venue. Just last year Rockets Lolita’s Bar claimed the top spot in the Middle East & Africa Bar category of the 2018 Restaurant and Bar Design Awards.

Great Food, Great Service

Rockets Bryanston September Content Photo by Gemma Garman Photography
Rockets Bryanston September Content Photo by Gemma Garman Photography

While it’s easy to get distracted by the beautiful design and décor the proof is in the pudding, as they say, this is a restaurant after all and the food and service do not disappoint.

My Rockets Rosti, a grilled tender chicken breast on a homemade sweet potato rosti topped with Danish feta, crisp rocket, and fresh-cut tomato wedges, is perfection and our waiter is knowledgeable, attentive and warm.

Your heartbeat is your food. Anyone can serve a cold beer or G&T but it’s the food that sets you apart and there is so much love that goes into our food,” Sean explains. After one bite of the Rockets Rosti, I believe him.

When it comes to building the Rockets team Sean has three rules that all staff members need to live by:

  1. Always try your best,
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  3. Don’t sulk.
Sean describes the decor of Rockets Bryanston as Industrial Chic
Sean describes the decor of Rockets Bryanston as Industrial Chic

“At the core of these three things is performing at your best at all times. You can’t perform at your best if you aren’t trying your best at all times, you can’t perform at 100% if you aren’t learning because you’re afraid to ask questions and you certainly can’t perform at your peak if you are sulking.”  

This trifecta keeps the staff happy and the customers coming back. “We have people coming back time and time again because of the service and they tell us as much, so we work hard to maintain this which means we are tough on underperforming staff because it would not be fair to those who are giving their best,” Sean explains.

Looking around the restaurant and sitting with the man behind the brand (for hours, talking about anything and everything) it’s not hard to see why people keep coming back to Rockets.

It’s not just a restaurant or a bar, it’s the place to be for anyone looking to see or be seen. Set in one of Johannesburg’s most affluent suburbs it’s aspirational and inspirational and true to the tag line it’s indeed a lifestyle.

Words by Liesl Frankson 

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