De Baba Eatery: Love and Croissants in Melville

28 May 2024
They’re good people. That’s the feeling you leave with after visiting De Baba Eatery on Melville’s Seventh Street. You can’t miss the vibrant red, green, and yellow bakery that flitters with early morning footfall while so much of Melville is just waking up.
We meet with owner Ansie van der Mescht, who is covered head-to-toe in flour and has been at it since 04:00. She tells us she’s exhausted, but watching the sunrise every morning over Fourth Avenue from their centralised kitchen makes for a good drawcard.
Ansie van der Mescht working her magic on a batch of cinnamon croissant rolls at De Baba in Melville. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

Van der Mescht wasn’t always a baker. Once upon a time, she had a desk job as an accountant in a corporate firm. Suffice to say, it wasn’t her passion.

Van der Mescht tells us, "During school holidays I used to help my grandmother bake. My grandparents had fruit trees, vines, and vegetables in their tiny suburban garden in the Free State, and so many things went straight from that garden into something delicious. And she was always in the kitchen making something for someone." Van der Mescht took that experience, taught herself to bake, and learnt through trial and error every day after work.

She then started doing markets and called her brand ‘De Baba’, after the nickname she'd given her husband. Accounting by day and baking by night proved difficult, as Van der Mescht explains, "I used to go home after work at 17:00 and bake for four to five hours!" She laughs as she sees our eyes bulge and continues, "Then I’d sell [the baked goods] at what was then Neighbourgoods Market (Now Play Braam), but I quit that after a year because it wasn’t sustainable."
Ansie van der Mescht with her husband and business partner Jean Rene Onyangunga (known as JR) at De Baba in Melville. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

Van der Mescht’s husband and business partner Jean Rene Onyangunga (known as JR) is a well-known fashion designer, and the brains behind fashion label Dr Pachanga, but has now rolled up his sleeves to help in every way he can with De Baba Eatery. It’s clear from how they are with each other that there’s a lot of love there – a definite yin and yang. Onyangunga is more playful and off the wall, Van der Mescht more grounded and serious, but with a twinkle in her eye.

Van der Mescht and Onyangunga met at Oppikoppi 10 years ago. They went on one date when they returned to Joburg and immediately started living together. We ask about their matching nose rings and who got one first, and Onyangunga laughs and tells us that Van der Mescht got hers first, but that he wasn’t copying her, he just wanted to be like Lenny Kravitz...
The baked goods section will have you transfixed at De Baba Eatery. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

They’ve lived and worked together since then, primarily on the Dr Pachanga brand (interspersed with De Baba featuring at various markets); in February 2020 they went all in and opened two Dr Pachanga stores, one in Rosebank's The Zone and one in Morningside. Then Covid-19 hit. They were both solely working for Dr Pachanga at the time and it was a difficult case of all their eggs in one basket.

As soon as restrictions were lifted, they reignited the fire under both brands, hitting as many markets as possible for both Dr Pachanga and De Baba. In 2021 alone they clocked 300 markets. And afterwards, not surprisingly, they were completely burned out. They then downscaled to focus on only the biggest markets, but that still meant employing staff on an unstable income. Their only solution was to find a fixed location for De Baba, with proximity to their home being the key.

Van der Mescht smiles as she explains, "We were just driving past, and my husband kind of… pushed me into it." She laughs, "I’m the more risk-averse one." Van der Mescht tells us that if it weren’t for the push it wouldn’t have happened. She hasn’t had an off-day since they started on Feb 8, 2022, so she’s pretty exhausted, she sighs, adding, "I don’t even know what day it is."
You can't help but feel happy in the cosy interior of De Baba Eatery. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

We ask about the flamboyant colour palate of the interior and exterior of the café and Van der Mescht chuckles and says, "That’s all JR; his handbags look like this, his shops look like this, our house looks like this... and sometimes he dresses like this." The décor is an instant mood lifter, and the energy of the place hums and draws you in. That, and the smell of bread and sugar.
Barista and server Kamogelo Ramoretli showing us their much-loved croissants. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

De Baba Eatery offers breakfast and lunch daily, with freshly baked delights flowing out the ovens and a hot kitchen menu they're continually refining and expanding. "My husband and I are totally wet behind the ears. When we opened it was just me and one baker." They’ve hired more staff to expand their menus and an already impressive baked selection.  
It’s homely, farm-style fare: eggs Benedict and Welsh rarebit are the standouts at breakfast and you'll find fresh gnocchi, salads, and a steak or two for lunch. Everything from the bread to the condiments is made in-house. The croissants are made fresh every morning, as are all of their ‘laminated pastries’. Their almond croissants are sinfully good. Van der Mescht is meticulous about processes, ensuring no shortcuts are taken, and always adding a good dose of love, stone-ground flour, and proper butter to everything. She tells me that's the key. That, and having a good oven. She averages about 700 croissants a week and it's time-consuming, finicky work.
Eggs Benedict on homemade sourdough at De Baba Eatery. Photo: Kate Liquorish.

The cake selection is another magnet. Their baked cheesecake is made using double cream from Woolworths because you can’t get it anywhere else. As Van der Mescht tells us, "That’s the kind of sh*t that’s in there so it is very, very good. Our carrot cake has a sourdough starter with tons of nuts and raisins. The Russian honey cake has eight layers of biscuits assembled with double cream, and the Napoleon cake contains 12 layers of puff pastry with crème pâtisserie between the layers. That’s the kind of stuff we like to make, the kind of stuff you can’t find anywhere else."

And boy oh boy is it all good; sheer comfort served with a genuine smile alongside coffees in oversized rainbow mugs, and dogs and children are welcome. You'll pop in for a croissant, end up staying for an hour, and leaving with a bag filled with freshly made nougat you didn't know you needed. Like we said, they're good people who have created a quirky, charming eatery where everything is made with the utmost love and care, with an atmosphere that screams to be adored. 


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