Up On The Ridge

Written By: The Lowdown - Jul• 01•13

Sixty years on and whilst it has had its ups and downs, they have mostly been ups and it has maintained its reputation as one of Lusaka’s top hotels. The Ridgeway.


Officially opened in 1953, this Grand Lady has had many thousands of people from all walks of life enter her front doors, whether for an overnight stay, for a meal at one of the restaurants, to attend a dinner dance or perhaps only for a couple of drinks in the pub. And to be sure, amongst those thousands of people have been secret agents, conmen and arms dealers but the vast majority had no exciting story to tell; they were Joe Public on a business trip or on holiday.


Mention the Ridgeway to any old timer in Zambia and they will all remember a Show Dinner that they attended or a Lusaka Lunch Club meeting. All will also remember a long standing item on the menu in their restaurant – Chicken-in-a-Basket. And ask some of the more rumbustious young men – it was either them or their ‘mate’ who first put a couple of young crocs in the pond on the terrace. If each ones story is to be believed, there must have been dozens of crocs in that pond.


We asked two oldies who were closely involved with the Ridgeway for their memories.


The first, Doug, was the son of the assistant manager.  Arriving in Lusaka on 15 September 1955, when the hotel was just two years old, Doug was himself only six or seven years of age. At that time Northern Rhodesia was part of the newly formed Central African Federation together with Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The flight from London took two days and one night. After London the first stop was Paris, then Rome, Athens and Cairo. At each stop, the passengers disembarked and were all served a meal. From Cairo, next stop was Khartoum, then Nairobi, Ndola and finally Lusaka.


The General Manager at that time was a Mr da Silva, who met Doug, his parents and his siblings in a chauffer driven blue Buick stretch limousine. As they were driven up the avenue from the airport (CityAirport, not KK International) the beautiful purple jacarandas and the brilliant red flamboyant trees were in full bloom. But despite the beauty of the trees, Doug was disappointed not to see elephants and lions wandering around town.


Upon arrival, the family was taken to a garden flat in Jubilee Court where they met Jim Kabanga, a house servant who had been recruited by the hotel for them. Doug also met Rodney Hargreaves who was close to his age and his younger brother, Graham; their parents also worked at the Ridgeway Hotel. The Ridgeway was a short walk across a piece of open bush, full of trees laden with monkey oranges and with cicadas or Christmas beetles making their deafening screeching noise to welcome the coming rains. Scorpions too were very much in evidence with multiple daily sightings.


The second oldie that we spoke with was the charismatic manager from March 1979 until May 1992, Richard Chanter.  In fact, during those years, Richard ‘was’ The Ridgeway.


Richard recalls that during his time as general manager, the hotel faced intense competition with the opening in 1979 of the Taj Pamodzi Hotel across the road (initially managed by British Caledonian – remember them?). The Ridgeway had to re-invent itself to survive the inevitable exodus of Guests to the new project next door. Richard 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!

Yet they managed to achieve their market share in the face of this competition by concentrating on the 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 the 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’. The Ridgeway was 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 they 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.

Richard also arranged to have some of those crocodiles put back in the pond on the terrace when they 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 their letterheads and stationery by Gabriel Ellison.

Richard initially managed the hotel for Hallway Hotels but for most of his time there, worked directly for Anglo American, the owners. John Phillips and Sharon van Reenen formed the rest of the management team. This trio were proudly responsible for training many Zambians in catering and hotel management with sponsorships and scholarships to both Kenya and UK.

Since then, The Ridgeway has had a number of name and management changes, first becoming part of the Holiday Inn group and now part of Southern Sun. And they have a no less dynamic general manager in Adrian Penny.

We wish The Ridgeway a very happy 60th birthday and hope that she will be with us for many more happy years.


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