Say Hello to our newest host, Caroline Bagley of Savoy Cabbage!
It is true that the best way to spot a Cape Town foodie is to attend an unconventional food event, and so we met Caroline at StreetSmartSA’s annual fundraiser event. She is the owner of Savoy Cabbage, one of the oldest fine-dining restaurant in Cape Town with an ever-changing menu infused with local, seasonal ingredients!
With Cape Town’s glorious winter’s day (26C, mind you), we popped into Savoy Cabbage during our afternoon walk to catch up with Caroline. Housed in the historic Heritage Square, the restaurant preserved its rustic, exposed brick walls with an open-plan kitchen “so that you can get a good view of the Chefs at work,” Caroline said warmly.
She used to lived in the UK, worked in Human Resource before her yearning for the bright blue African sky drew her back home. “When I returned home in 1997, I took time off to explore South Africa. It was an amazing moment in history and everyone I met bubbled with excitement about the future!” Caroline recounted, “I was inspired. I wanted to venture out of my comfort zone and try new things, but with a focus on growing people in our country.“ This finally led to Caroline opening the doors to Savoy Cabbage in August 1998.
With Cape Town’s constant changing dining scene, seasonal traffic and fickle clientale, most restaurants struggle to keep their doors open in the city. Caroline share her “secret sauce” with us:
TIP 1: Grow your people
“With any business, your people are your greatest asset,” Caroline remarked. She is a firm advocate for building a bottom-up workplace, open for everyone to contribute feedback and strive for consensus decisions. As a result, the Savoy Cabbage team is a family with average staff tenure of 7 years! Some of Caroline’s past waitstaff have gone on to become successful playwrights, actors, physicians; and spoke of staging a “Savoy Cabbage Musical” filled with stories of the colourful characters who have walked through the doors.
This philosophy is true for her customers, as Caroline works with each client to tailor the experience for their needs. “I have my Checklists to run through details that even the clients may not have thought of,” and Caroline approaches all events with a wedding planner-esque tenacity. She credits her days as a HR consultant for her project management skills, and her teams’ attention to details for creating a world-class experience.
TIP 2: Never compromise on quality
During our chat, I met some of Caroline’ss suppliers as they deliver flour, vegetables and fresh meats. I was surprised to see small bakkies instead of delivery trucks through the front door.
“Oh yes, we work with local artisans for the freshest, best ingredients. The meat is from a local butchery and gets delivered daily – our tiny freezer is just for home-made ice cream.”
As Chef Peter Pankhurst shared in Gastronomica, you will find “real honesty in cooking… because small food and slow food, fresh and organic is what I want and believe in”
This is why we will always find seasonal creations beyond signature dishes like Fennel dusted Warthog or Braised Shortrib.
TIP 3: Support our communities
Remember how we met Caroline? She recruits young chefs from Iziko Cooking School in Langa; raise funds for Home of Hope; and participates in Street Smart SA program. These are but a few examples of Caroline’s support for community initiatives. “This is how I can make a difference in my capacity. When our communities flourish, everyone win!” smiles Caroline.
Pretty great tips, hey? Will Caroline do it all over again? “Most definitely! It is truly rewarding to build a team from scratch, and I have met the most incredible people through Savoy Cabbage. But running a restaurant is really, really hard work… You have to be prepared to put in long hours, and have (or learn fast) business skills to be successful.”
Caroline has agreed to host our next Food and Chatter food experience, where her team will be treating us to a delectable family meal this August as part of our Open Design Cape Town series. Stay tuned on our Facebook page to meet our new friends and rediscover Cape Town’s designs through food!
See you soon!