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Chef from Clarens

Opening a new restaurant..who wants to know?

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I live in a little village high up in the mountains on the border between Lesotho and South Africa. Our village is a tourist destination and has a population of less than 2500 but 18 art galleries, 14 pub & restaurants, 2 hotels ( of which I own 1) and about 40 B&B's located around our village square.

I have been thinking about opening a new stand alone restaurant and was wondering if anyone would be interested in following a thread on the planning, building, outfitting, menu design etc etc of this restaurant. I am keeping a journal of sorts for my kids as I hope one of them will take it over from me when I decide to drink wine on a full time basis instead of a semi-regular basis!! Also the input and advice not to mention the ideas would also be very welcome from fellow gulleteers. It's lonely starting a new venture!!

I look forward to hearing from y'all!!


The fat & happy Chef from Clarens, Eastern Free State, South Africa.

I've never had a bad day in the kitchen, but I've had some bad kitchens in my day!

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I live in a little village high up in the mountains on the border between Lesotho and South Africa. Our village is a tourist destination and has a population of less than 2500 but 18 art galleries, 14 pub & restaurants, 2 hotels ( of which I own 1) and about 40 B&B's located around our village square.

I have been thinking about opening a new stand alone restaurant and was wondering if anyone would be interested in following a thread on the planning, building, outfitting, menu design etc etc of this restaurant. I am keeping a journal of sorts for my kids as I hope one of them will take it over from me when I decide to drink wine on a full time basis instead of a semi-regular basis!! Also the input and advice not to mention the ideas would also be very welcome from fellow gulleteers. It's lonely starting a new venture!!

I look forward to hearing from y'all!!

I would! I wanted to do the same while opening Fabula (my restaurant, which is about a month old) but never found enough time to sit down and write. Of course I was doing almost everything by myself. If you have the time to write it, I'm sure most of us will find the time to read it


Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

My Blog, en Español

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I would love to read it, hear your experiences on all aspects.

I've not opened my own restaurant, but have been involved in the openings of several, so please do share!

Laurie

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I'm going to start working in a brand new restaurant in about 2 months. I would love to hear how your plans go and compare. It's something something I've never done so I'm excited. I'm sure you are excited about your new adventure as well.

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i'm scheduled to open a brasserie in manila in 3 weeks so i'm in the middle of construction.

be careful with the architects/interiors/contractors/electrical & mechanical engineers. i visited my site yesterday & found 4 electrical boards and 2 huge generator switches in the middle of my kitchen wall. in the middle! :wacko:

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Having visited Lesotho when my MIL worked as a volunteer teacher there, I would be more than a little interested in reading this. Maybe things are very different now (I was there before the ANC came into power in SA), but there was very little in the way of food, let alone cuisine. A meal of something that looked like pure white corn kernals and entirely devoid of flavour is seared on my memory.

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I think that this would be fascinating for the readers and possibly useful to you as well as you may be able to glean useful information, insights and feedback from the eGullet Society membership. Personally, having been to South Africa not too long ago, I would be very interested in the local aspects of your project.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Well here goes...

I have been a chef since 1975, trained in-house at the Beverley Hills Hotel, Umhlanga Rocks, just north of Durban, South Africa, and worked for all the big hotel chains in South Africa. Left the corporate world in 1989 to start my own little country hotel with a restaurant which worked a charm for 10 years, sold that and moved to our present shop, in a little village called Clarens ( see http://www.clarenstourism.co.za/ ). We started a hotel here some seven years ago and it has grown to 24 rooms with a busy conference centre as well as a fair bit of function and wedding catering but I don't cook, not in the real sense of the word if you know what I mean. I prepare brilliant breakfasts, all buffet style for 40 - 60 coverts, I do conference group lunches and dinners and wedding buffets and without blowing my own horn there is no one that touches our quality, attention to detail, our ingredients , our service or whatever BUT ITS JUST NOT COOKING!!

I was trained in a 40 seater fine dining restaurant and for most of my cooking life I've cooked good a la carte and not with BIG POTS even if its very nice food, prepared with love and passion.

So, dear fellow gulleteers, this is the impasse at which I find myself...watching BBC Food Channel and ranting at myself for not doing something more interesting with the leg of lamb other than just roasting it...(why not debone it, stuff it with baby spinach and fresh wild apricots and roast it, then serve it on a demi glaze flavoured with reduced balsamic on a bed of butternut and sweet potato mash....well you get my meaning.) Most of my conference groups would't know the difference between a blade of grass and a plump duck liver if you know what I mean. The question is, do I go meekly into the kitchen and carry on cooking what my conference delegates want or do I throw my self into a new venture, and, forsaking all else, go and cook some real grub??? I know I can leave the present set up in the capable hands of Norah , my right hand-maiden, my wife Megan will be more than capable of the day-to-day running of the hotel with the rest of our staff and while we all like to think we are indispensable, I am sure I might not even be missed!

SO I HAVE DECIDED... I am going to look for a new shop. It must be close by, it must be made to measure, ( I am too old to try and fit a kitchen into a store room or whatever) it must have POSITION POSITION and POSITION and well yes I guess that's all I really need to start me off on my mission.. so until I find the spot ...keep happy and busy!!


The fat & happy Chef from Clarens, Eastern Free State, South Africa.

I've never had a bad day in the kitchen, but I've had some bad kitchens in my day!

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Why don't you use your existing hotel and open a restaurant there, I hear you say. Well that's easy to answer, the village is set around a quaint town square, all grassed and pretty. All the "action" happens or traditionally has happened around here. Tourists like to park and walk about our village, browsing from gallery to craft shop, pavement cafe to bistro as they spend their day & their bucks in our little tourist haven.

Our hotel is situated about a mile off the square, overlooking our lovely mountain scenery, the new golf course (yes we have one of those developments busy being finished off here too) and looking onto the village. BUT we are just too far off the beaten track for tourists to wander in for food, especially when they have 14 or 15 pubs and restaurants on, or just off, the square and especially if they have to get into their cars to drive here.

Yes we did try when we first opened but soon realised that we should concentrate on our core business which is accommodation (B&B on weekends) and Mon - Fri Conference Groups and, yes, we make a good living out of it. but still. there is that empty place in my cooking soul.

I have spent the last few years idly looking at sites and daydreaming the perfect restaurant for our village as we have watched it grow, and grow it has over the last few years. Property prices have risen in leaps and bounds (a 900 sqm stand in 2000 going for R35 000 was recently sold for the 4th time for R1 300 000!!!) The demographics have changed dramatically with the building of over 750 very upmarket holiday homes for the wealthy yuppie class from Johannesburg. Three new golf courses are in the process of being built (including 2 Gary Player signature courses!! as well as one built by the Pinnacle Group who currently are the only golf course owners of a World Top Ten Course out of the USA {Pinnacle Point on the Garden Route here in South Africa [see http://www.pinnaclepoint.co.za/ ]} What with all this expansion our village has still maintained its quaintness and village feel. But, and I say this with greatest of respect to my colleagues in the food industry, bar 1 or 2 restaurants in our village, the food standard is very poor, acceptable but hardly recommendable. Great service when the owner is around but when they're not (most of the time it seems) staff are left to their own devices.

http://www.clarens.co.za/Restaurants.htm :laugh::huh::sad::hmmm:

Now one thing you have to understand about Africa is staff and the lack of skills..yes I know we are all partly to blame and a large problem is the lack of education afforded some of our people under the old apartheid system. This has come back to haunt us all because most black people 25 and up had a pretty shitty education and it is from this Previously Disadvantaged group that we draw the larger part of our labour.

Training is an ongoing and fundamental part of running any business in South Africa. The good news is that we have had a couple of really great schools in our village run by some incredibly passionate teachers and the fruit of their labours is starting to show with the first classes who have gone from start to finish under the new education system set to graduate this year!! We live in high hopes!!

So apart from finding the right spot for my new shop, the training of staff is going to be almost as big a challenge, because dear Gulleteer, unfortunately for all, I am a perfectionist. It is this single trait, that that in my eyes, makes my life pain-full. I would rather not do something than not do it properly. I am not saying I need silver service waiters and French sounding Maitre-d's, but I do need thinking, creative, responsible, caring, service-orientated hospitable staff, more than just warm bodies that attend between the hours of opening and closing!

Most of our prospective staff have never eaten anything but home cooked food and so the concept of going "out" to eat is the first hurdle in getting the mindset right in explaining why people would waste money on restaurant food. Fortunately, because our village is small, most everyone knows someone who works in the food & service industry and so half our battle is over BUT it's top class service I need to instill in all my staff. The fact that nothing is too much trouble, we can go the extra yard, to steal from Avis Rent A Car...WE TRY HARDER. That;s all I ask of my staff.. well on a bad day, on a good day we are going to soar with the eagles.

I'm off to see a piece of property that I thought was spoken for but appears to be available at a price I can afford so....I'm outta here fast...keep you posted and sincerely from the bottom of my heart..thanks for reading!!


Edited by Chef from Clarens (log)

The fat & happy Chef from Clarens, Eastern Free State, South Africa.

I've never had a bad day in the kitchen, but I've had some bad kitchens in my day!

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Well well well, isn't life just sooo cool sometimes. I have always coveted a site right at the entrance to our village, it's about 800 m away from my hotel front door and even less from my house, right on the entrance / exit intersection with great road frontage, great access and even better parking, overlooking the golf course and our big resident mountain on the North East (Sunny Side) and overlooking a bubbling little stream and willow trees on the South West ( Shady Side). Well, on the way to talk to the agent about a piece of land I was interested in not this one, a good friend called me up this morning to come and view the site and was I gobsmacked to hear that not only had he bought the site, but wanted to build a restaurant to lease out on the site. We're busy drinking beer and drawing plans this afternoon and the architect arrives tomorrow!!I am so excited: a restaurant custom built to my specs and I don't even have to worry about the builders or the plumbers. Now this has happened it has sped up my plans by about 2000%. The original piece of land is still on the market, but I don't need it anymore! Bruce & I signed a memorandum of understanding on the new restaurant this afternoon and already I can feel my cooking genes roaring again. I think I'll cook something special tonight to celebrate!!


The fat & happy Chef from Clarens, Eastern Free State, South Africa.

I've never had a bad day in the kitchen, but I've had some bad kitchens in my day!

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