The first Mo’s Noodles restaurant opened in Morningside’s trendy Florida Road almost 21 years ago, quickly becoming one of the most popular spots in Durban.
Having started out as a waitress at the small, eight-seater café, Jo-Ann Gibson took over the business in 2003 and Mo’s continued to grow in popularity, becoming something of an institution amongst Durban foodies. “It wasn’t really my plan to buy a restaurant, but owners Mike and Janine were relocating and they insisted that I was the only person they would sell it to.”
Time for a change
A few years later the demographic of the area started to change, with new restaurants and bars opening around Mo’s, Jo-Ann says business started to slow and the time came to make a move.
She closed the restaurant and, 13 weeks later in 2013, the new Mo’s Noodles opened in Beacon Rock in Umhlanga. “Moving the restaurant to Umhlanga was a big change for me and pushed me very far out of my comfort zone, but it was the right decision. We were fully booked for weeks after opening, and the restaurant has remained busy ever since.”
A love story
A year after opening in Umhlanga, Jo-Ann says it was by complete accident that she (at the time a single mother to her son, Ethan) stumbled across a photograph of her former high school crush, Shane, on Facebook.
“Shane and I met 27 years ago when we were 15 and 16 years old. We became friends and always ‘liked’ each other during our school years.” But, like most teenage infatuations, Jo and Shane’s relationship never amounted to anything serious and she moved overseas and he went to the army after school. They lost contact for more than 20 years until Jo saw the photograph of him on Facebook. “I had moved back to South Africa and he was a single father of three in the UK. We started chatting and Shane decided to come and meet me in SA.”
Within two weeks of meeting each other again, the couple knew they were in love. “Ethan and I flew to visit Shane in the UK and Ethan unknowingly brought the ring with him on the plane. Shane had arranged for a friend to carve out a space for the ring inside a book and told him to send it with Ethan. Shane proposed shortly after we arrived. It was all very romantic.”
Despite the fact that Shane had a very high-profile job in the UK, they couple decided to move back to South Africa to allow Ethan (who was in Grade 6 at the time) to finish school. Shortly after arriving back, Jo-Ann discovered she was pregnant with their now three-year-old daughter, Isabella. “She was totally unplanned but ended up being the best thing to ever happen to us.”
Growing the business
When Murray Loader, the brainchild behind the Lifestyle Centre’s Eat Street concept, approached Jo-Ann about opening a branch in Ballito she turned him down. On more than one occasion. “I knew I couldn’t run two restaurants on my own, but he was very persistent and I finally agreed to meet with him.” After much deliberation, the couple decided to put all their focus on growing the brand and Shane resigned from his job and joined Jo-Ann in running Mo’s Noodles. The restaurant opened in in Ballito on 1 December 2017.
The food, the vibe
Despite what many people often think, Mo’s Noodles is not just a ‘noodle bar’. In fact, the menu is anything but. The ‘Mo’ in Mo’s Noodles is from the colloquial slang of ‘more’. “People think we are all about noodles, but that is so not the case,” says Shane.
Offering a wide range of starters, salads, soups, main courses and curries, he says customers often find it hard to choose what to have from the exciting Thai-based menu. “People love creating their own ‘combo’s’ from our menu. It makes things interesting. In fact, our most popular dish is actually a combination of two dishes on the menu – the Lentil and Feta salad and the Calamari. It is delicious!” Other popular dishes include the Hot and Sour soup and the signature Sesame Peanut Chicken and Coconut Noodles. Shane and Jo-Ann say they have enjoyed working with a serving a slightly different clientele in Ballito in the unique setting that Lifestyle’s Eat Street has to offer. “We love the relaxed, outdoor vibe with restaurants all spilling into each other, live music every now and then and no paid parking!”
Details: Mo’s Noodles are situated at the Ballito Lifestyle Centre (next door to Zara’s): 087 354 3935 and Beacon Rock in Umhlanga: 031 561 1722.
Photographer: Chris Allan Photo