Arrival in Knysna
My name is Leeanne and I moved to Knysna in 2015. After spending 14 years in corporate in Cape Town, I was craving a more peaceful life and wanted to be closer to my parents. My sister Sandy arrived in Knysna in 2016 and we decided to put our heads together and come up with something that we both love to do, are good at, that people would want and that we could make a living out of.
Inception of idea
I’m a creative entrepreneur and Sandy is a talented chef so it made sense to do something with food. We decided that the best place to start would be at a Saturday Market. Wild Oats Market in Sedgefield was the biggest and most popular in our area so we looked at the food stalls there and identified a gap in their offering… they had no vegan food stalls.
Pack a Punch vegan food stall
We pitched our plan for a vegan food stall to Wild Oats Market and it was accepted. Pack a Punch was born and we started serving 100% vegan brunches every Saturday morning, rain or shine. It was really gritty hard work, carting everything there, setting up and serving quality meals under tough conditions… no electricity, no water, baking heat in summer and freezing cold in winter. We cooked with gas and hauled containers of water with us to wash dishes, pots, pans & cutlery during service.
Sandy & I refer to those 2 years as “earning our stripes” as it’s not for sissies!
After 2 gruelling years of food stall markets, we were ready for the next big step. We had built up a great reputation and had a strong following of customers so we rented space inside the Knysna Mall and opened our vegan restaurant, Vegan Kitchen. Sadly, there were not enough customers willing to eat in a fully vegan restaurant and we soon learned the following lesson: cater for everyone, not for a select few.
Inception of a better idea
Our new plan was clear: we wanted to serve top quality food to all, vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. We started searching for new premises and it wasn’t long before we discovered a property at the entrance to Belvidere Estate, that had been on the market for many years. It was very run down and the garden was completely overgrown. The property was old but had a great historical feel, a lovely character and we could see great potential… it also had business rights which is what sealed the deal for us.
Purchase and renovation of the property
I just love a creative challenge! We got stuck into this project and completely rejuvenated the old building into a bright, warm and welcoming restaurant. The overgrown garden was cleared and new grass, flowers and trees were planted. It was Autumn when we purchased the property and the oak trees in Belvidere were dropping their leaves… hence “Oak Leaf Café” was born.
Whilst in the process of designing our launch menu, Sandy and I decided to road-trip around the Western Cape, in search of top quality and ethical produce. What you put in, is what you get out, so sourcing the right ingredients was of utmost importance. We were also on the hunt for unique products to sell in our gourmet deli… speciality products that one could not find in Knysna or surrounds.
We discovered the Fynboshoek Cheese Farm in Tsitsikamma, Le Montenara Cheeses in Ashton, olives in Prince Albert, wines & olives in Robertson, coffee in Groot Brak, exquisite vegan cashew nut cheeses in Stanford, wines in Hemel en Aarde, Tom Hannam gluten-free bread & Oatly Oat Milk in Cape Town, Charlesford Farm on our door-step, Eddie Hart’s award-winning raw honey and Peter Unite’s award-winning organic olive oil, both Belvidere locals as well as much loved regular customers.
Opening of Oak Leaf Brunch Café, Gourmet Deli & Coffee Bar
We opened the Oak Leaf Café on 22 October 2019 with our original core team, Nono (barista), Ariel (waiter), Zae (sous chef), Vanessa (chef de partie), Agnes (cleaner) and Gordon (groundskeeper). Christelle joined the team in January 2020 and John in November 2020.
2 years later…
It was a huge risk investing in a property for a restaurant in a quiet neighbourhood outside of Knysna Central… but what a success it has been! Oak Leaf Café has breathed life into Belvidere and has become a local’s favourite as well as a destination restaurant for customers from all over the Garden Route.
Our menu offers something for everyone (we even have a doggy plate for your furry friend) and our coffees are excellent! We’ve recently obtained our liquor license, we’ve developed a children’s play area, a cyclist’s corner with bicycle parking and a little gift boutique that sells clothing, shoes, jewellery, hats, soaps, candles & other gifts.
Oak Leaf Café as it stands today has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve put down firm roots in Belvidere and we couldn’t be happier.
Plans for the future
We weathered the Covid-19 storm well and have emerged stronger and rearing to go! Sandy and I have developed an exciting expansion plan which will see Oak Leaf Café opening for Friday Evenings and Sunday Brunches in early 2022. Watch this space!