By Michele Serfontein
A female business owners’ perspective on what gets lost along the way
Living sea-side has always been a dream. A chance holiday in Hermanus made us realise that it’s one of the most beautiful places to stay – the sea, mountains and the champagne air! From that day on, we fantasized about one day retiring in this idyllic place.
My husband and I, together with our two sons, had very comfortable lives in Johannesburg. We had good corporate jobs with good salaries. Our boys were in a private Christian school close to home. Our family, though, lived in the Cape – and while we had many friends, the support structure just wasn’t the same.
We had also come to realise that Gideon and I were living separate lives. We were just sharing a house and enjoying each other’s company with friends from time to time. There had to be more.
In 2017, we started looking to buy a business in Hermanus. We bought a well-established, 180-seater Ocean Basket. Right on the waterfront, it had an unparalleled view of the Old Harbour. We became owners in March of 2018. This was after spending 6 months finalising contracts of sale, lease agreements and being trained on how to manage a restaurant.
The first year was completely overwhelming. We underestimated how difficult moving house, enrolling Johan (our eldest) at Stellenbosch University and establishing Derik (our youngest) in a new high school would be. We had to adjust to small town living after the bustle of the big city. Here, everyone knew everyone, and everyone’s business.
We learned some tough lessons. Restaurateurs work hardest when people are relaxing. Weekends, public holidays and festive seasons were no longer days off for us. These became times of long working hours and prioritising customer satisfaction.
Our sons were the hardest hit. In Johannesburg, they had it all – settled lives and doting parents who loved to take them on exciting getaways. Now they had to be content with having meals at the restaurant instead of at home. Holidays became a thing of the past. Now it was all work with very little time for play.
But the restaurant created endless opportunities for us to meet different people from all walks of life. We bumped into old friends, hosted church groups and supported local schools. It gave us a chance to bring people together.
And four years later, we wouldn’t change it for the world.
Being restaurant owners has given us the opportunity to support out local community. We supply chips once a week to 60 primary school children in Mount Pleasant, and have hosted Collection Day for Lighthouse 2 Lighthouse Ladies – a fundraising organisation that has raised millions of rands for charities in the Overstrand since 2006.
My new title as “Michele Ocean Basket” has become a marker of pride. Our lives here are so different to how they were in Joburg. But in this simpler lifestyle, we’re finding so many small pleasures. Our romantic view of quaint sea-side living may have dissolved, but we’ve gained so much more in our quality of life.
Written by Michele Serfontein