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'Why I closed my restaurant' - by Pete Goffe-Wood

A personal account of the hazards of the restaurant trade in Cape Town.

by: Pete Goffe-Wood | 28 Jul 2011
pete goffe-wood

Staying open during winter is the biggest challenge facing Cape Town restaurants – we experience a huge seasonal dip between May and October – Capetonians just seem to hibernate.

It must be noted that Johannesburg has no such dip, they have year round support from their locals with the obvious exception when everyone disappears over Christmas and New Year. 

The frightening reality is that most restaurants are happy just to break even over this period and the main reason they do this is to retain staff for the busy summer season.

The new marketing madness

Winter Specials are killing restaurants, they are offering menus and deals that they make virtually no profit out of in order to get bums on seats. The main problem is that now the locals expect to get something for nothing and then begrudge having to pay full price when the summer comes. We are caught in a catch 22 of our own making.

What always annoys me is that every year we have the same complaints from Capetonians that we put our prices up over summer because of the tourists (from up north and abroad). Well Capetonians, if we got a little more support during the winter we wouldn't be relying on the summer months to carry us through the entire year.

Closing up shop

As a restaurateur you also need to be able to look at your business unemotionally as we did with Wild Woods in Hout Bay; my partner and I realised that as much as the bistro was our first love we weren’t prepared to put money into the business to keep it afloat during our second winter. So we closed up shop – it was a difficult decision considering all of the time and effort that went into it but it was the right decision.

I think that sometimes it is a hard call for restaurateurs to make; as we all know there are some giant egos out there and sometime operators don’t want to see what would be an obvious business decision in any other field. This often results in racking up huge debt often leaving suppliers holding the baby.

Bad reporting

I was actually annoyed by a recent Weekend Argus article by Helen Bamford that reported that Wild Woods, Jardine’s and Haute Cabriére had gone belly up – implying that we had in actual fact gone bankrupt!

Both Jardine's & Haute Cabriére’s leases came to an end and a decision was made not to renew - in Jardine’s case because other projects had taken the partners in different directions and in Cabriére’s instance Matt Gordon decided not to continue but the estate and management team of the restaurant are currently refurbishing and will be continuing as normal.

My gripe with this shoddy journalism is that it paints a dark picture of restaurateurs – of the three mentioned only two actually closed and all of their staff and suppliers were taken care of.

But there is not doubt that there is unbelievable pressure on restaurants during these recessionary times.

Kitchen Cowboy's Canteen

Elize and I are currently open for lunch from Monday to Friday at the Kitchen Cowboy’s Canteen at 20 Brickfield Rd, Woodstock.

We have a very informal daily changing menu where we cook home from home food, our target audience being all of the people working in this neck of the woods who want something affordable and sumptuous to see them through the day.

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