If Mickey thought of himself as the world’s most famous mouse, in this neck of the woods another mouse runs him a close second. It is Pringle Bay’s Ticklemouse. Many of us will have seen its small, white, mouse-sized delivery vans scampering around our towns delivering the delectable cookies and rusks for which Ticklemouse is renowned.
In this case, the business wasn’t started by the mouse, though; it was started by Freya Stennett when she and her husband, Dave retired to Rooiels 15 years ago. They let two holiday flats below their house and because Freya wanted to make her guests feel welcome, she would bake a batch of biscuits and put them in each of the flats.
“Soon, returning visitors would say, ‘no biscuits, no booking’,” laughs Freya, “and then they would ask me to bake them another batch to take home with them; and then their friends started calling and asking if I could bake some for them, too. “Eventually, Dave thought we should give the biscuits a name and suggested Ticklemouse, his nickname as a baby. It turned out to be a good choice, catchy and the right image.”
They thought they would try the biscuits out in the local village store, but soon they were getting orders from even further afield. Before they knew it, their house had been turned into a full-scale bakery. If they weren’t rolling out balls of dough, they were icing and packing, under the beady gaze and periodic raids of the local baboon troop, which thought they had discovered manna from heaven.
Their first two products were crunchie nut biscuits and coconut bran rusks, but the fun was in experimenting with new recipes and trying them out on customers. The range currently consists of 10 varieties of rusks and 12 biscuit options, all with their characteristic country-style, home-baked quality.
In the meantime, their entire house had started to look like a messy mini-factory, says Freya and it became clear that they would need more suitable premises and some help with their burgeoning business. “You realise how completely it has taken over your life when your wedding anniversary gift to each other is an industrial mixer,” she adds.
They found two rooms in Pringle Bay to accommodate the bakery, but with 10 staff members it felt a bit like packing sardines into a tin, and when she ended up burning the whole place down, she decided they should probably invest in purpose-built premises of their own.
Sadly Dave died unexpectedly and in 2008, Freya’s daughter Shaye and son-in-law Rainer Poewe bought into the business and Freya is no longer as actively involved in the factory as she once was. However, she continues to do the books for the business and because it was impossible for her to give up messy hands altogether, she has added a range of delicious, wholesome preserves which once again come out of her home kitchen.
Shaye says she thinks the people of Pringle Bay are quite proud of Ticklemouse and they are certainly her most loyal and enthusiastic customers. The same goes for holiday-makers to the area. Nevertheless, their customer-base has grown exponentially over the years.
Apart from several retailers in Cape Town that stock their products, their reach extends right up the West Coast and along the Southern Cape Coast as far as George. Their three little Ticklemouse vans set off from Pringle Bay every morning with fresh deliveries across the Western Cape. Indeed, one of their strong selling points is the freshness of their products. (In any case, they fly off the shelves almost as soon as they’ve been unpacked!)
Although they do good business throughout the year, interestingly enough, Shaye says, other than the December holidays, their busiest time is usually the winter months. “People tend to be indoors a lot and they look for tasty treats to go with their mugs of warming coffee. My mom’s preserves are very popular then, too, as well as our fudge.”
Rainer is in charge of the production process. They now have 14 ladies in the factory, all of whom have been trained by them. “Many have been here from Day 1,” says Shaye, “and they know exactly what they are doing. In fact, every year we are visited by officials from the FSA to conduct a very stringent audit of our safety and hygiene protocols and they do not issue a certificate of endorsement unless they are absolutely satisfied with what they find.”
Under RaIner’s guiding hand, the factory uses just under a ton of flour a week and produces an average of 600 packs of rusks and 12 600 biscuits a day. Shaye says they are incredibly proud of how the small business her mother started by happenstance has grown over the years, mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations.
“We’re very much part of the Pringle Bay community and our aim is to make sure my mom’s legacy continues to flourish here for a long time to come,” she adds.
One thing’s for sure, this family-owned business which runs on oiled wheels is certainly no Mickey Mouse operation.
Ticklemouse can be contacted on 028 2738021 or email@example.com. Their operating hours are Mon to Thurs: 08:00 – 16:00; Fri 08:00 – 14:00; Sat: 10:00 – 12:00.