Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel turns 60 years old this year – as one of the longest serving general managers in the hotel’s history I was asked to write a short piece for Lusaka Lowdown. Out of many memories this is what I mustered!
“Well it’s happy 60th birthday to the ‘old lady’ of Lusaka hotels, Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel, formerly Holiday Inn, formerly Ridgeway Hotel – like many rich old ladies she’s had plenty of face lifts over the years! My time as general manager of the hotel stretched from March 1979 to May 1992. The hotel faced intense competition in 1979 with the opening of the Taj Pamodzi Hotel across the road (initially managed by British Caledonian – remember them?) and The Ridgeway had to re-invent itself to survive the inevitable exodus of Guests to the new project next door. I was appointed just in time for last minute preparations for the famous 1979 Commonwealth Conference, the one that heralded independence for Zimbabwe, and just before the opening of the Pamodzi! Tough times!
We managed to achieve our market share in the face of this competition by concentrating on our Zambian market, providing the best entertainment in the city with a succession of great bands, including the Cool Knights and the Lubumbashi Stars. Zambians love to dance and they flocked to the hotel. In the mid 80’s you had to book well in advance for a seat in Musuku Restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights with top Zambian cabaret stars like Akim Simukonda, Muriel Mwamba and Lazarous Tembo wowing their audiences, while Guests tucked into famous Ridgeway buffets – or, of course, ‘chicken-in-the-basket’.
We were known for hosting great functions and many were memorable – the ‘stand out’ was, perhaps, the Show Society Annual Dinner of 1982 for 250 of Lusaka’s great and good, with KK and Prince Phillip in attendance. In the mid 80’s we also had a regular weekly radio show, a highly successful football team on the verge of a place in the Zambian super league and regular TV shows at Christmas and Easter.
We put crocodiles back in the central area of the hotel when we redeveloped the restaurant on the other side of the pond, renaming it ‘Rancho’ and making it famous for great whole Zambezi Bream as well as for the chicken-in-the-basket and wonderful huge T Bone steaks. The beautiful weaver birds inhabiting the pond formed the logo for the hotel in those days, drawn for our letterheads and stationery by Gabriel Ellison.
Initially I managed the hotel for Hallway Hotels but for most of the period of my management I worked directly for Anglo American the owners. John Phillips and Sharon van Reenen formed the rest of the management team and we were proudly responsible for training many Zambians in catering and hotel management with sponsorships and scholarships to both Kenya and UK.