Oh, the joy of eating out again! And what an encouraging sight it was this weekend, seeing people sitting outside in the sunshine, enjoying a meal and the glorious views. Such a contrast with the eerily quiet streets and closed-up businesses we’d seen during the hard lockdown.
“Yes, Hermanus is still here – and we must have faith in that,” says Shane Sauvage of La Pentola. “There is still nowhere else I’d rather be.” For him, the first weekend since restaurants were allowed to reopen for sit-down service was an uplifting experience. “For the first time in a long while I was able to do what I do – and what a pleasure it was!” he says. “This restaurant is my life.”
Unlike many restaurants in other towns and cities, including Cape Town, that have already had to close their doors, most of our restaurant owners are still hanging in there. “Business is slow, but we are doing the best we can,” says Han Meerburg of Walkerbay Grill in Voëlklip. “The biggest problem we have is not being able to serve alcohol, as it is such an integral part of dining out. You know, people don’t go to a restaurant because they’re hungry; what they want is an evening away from home, they want to have a celebration, an experience.”
Most restaurant owners have said that the prohibition on serving alcohol is impeding their chances of survival. “At the moment I am just trying to break even so that I can at least pay some of my staff,” says Han. “With so many people laid off and unemployment rising, that alone makes it worthwhile. So I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet.”
Bruce Geddes of Rossi’s says although it is still very quiet, it has been good for the morale of his staff to be back at work. Most of the restaurants are also still continuing with their take-out service, which has helped them to tick over and support their staff members since the move to lockdown Level 3. All of them have struggled to receive even minimal TERS payments. Rudolf van der Berg of Burgundy, who hopes to reopen at the end of the month, says he’s been helping his staff out with food parcels since the start of the lockdown.
In spite of all these challenges, Petri Hendriksz of Pear Tree and Char’d remains upbeat. “We just have to stay positive and innovative, and keep thinking out of the box. That’s why we continue to come up with new dishes and specials, and drinks treats to make up for the lack of alcohol,” he says. “Local support is very important to us right now and we have to make sure that we don’t compromise on quality.”
Although several restaurants are offering specials at the moment, including La Pentola, Shane says the restaurants should beware of starting a price war. “Our restaurants are the pride of Hermanus and we should never devalue what we do. Now, more than ever, we need to work together and support one another. We have been through a lot – hard winters, riots, and now this pandemic. But we are a hardened bunch and it is our sense of community that has always pulled us through.”
Someone who can attest to that is Rebecca Matthysen of The Eatery, who became involved with the Food4Love feeding scheme during the hard lockdown and has provided delicious home-cooked meals for home delivery since Level 3. “Hermanus is a very supportive community that always pulls together in times of crisis. We now have to make sure that we source local, eat local and spend local.” Amen to that!