Text & Pictures by Julienne du Toit & Chris Marais
If you are an entrepreneur wanting to make a living in the country, it’s best to start small, experiment and grow your business organically. Here’s the story of one enterprising family doing well on Route 62 in the Little Karoo.
Louise Pharo used to be in senior management at a prominent financial firm in Cape Town. Her husband Arthur is a builder, a collector of memorabilia and a “hoarder of note”.
In 2012, they bought real estate in Barrydale, with no clear idea what they would do with it.
“I just felt we needed a bolthole somewhere, an escape from the city,” Louise explains. “Arthur needed a place to store and display his treasures. I thought we might one day build a cute coffee shop. I bought dainty little cupcake holders and everything. But it all morphed into something much bigger.”
They acquired the property next door and Arthur started building an enormous space that somehow looked as if it had been there forever. Louise’s cupcake-holders were never even unwrapped. Instead, the building became an incredible roadside diner starring Arthur’s crazy collections of everything from sublime stained glass windows rescued from a collapsing Belgian church to Kewpie dolls, flying ceramic ducks and covetable enamel signs.
Arthur wanted to call it Diesel & Dust, but the family finally smoothed the name out to Diesel & Crème.
Their son Dean joined them, started managing the restaurant and masterminded the creation of some highly unusual milkshakes.
Moving to Barrydale and building up the Diesel & Crème Vintage Diner had brought the clan together in ways they could never have foreseen. The Pharo’s say:
“This is a project of passion. We are a family-run business now, and all of us are very hands-on. We embrace change and we’re always moving things around, adding things, improving the systems, the kitchen equipment and freshening the look. We also support other local businesses wherever we can. More importantly we invest in our team because we firmly believe that a happy staff member equals a happy client.”
They are bonded to their employees.
“I realised that if you’re going to do something, do it properly,” says Louise. “Get the best staff you can and train them well. We have 16 people working for us and their service standards are tops. For instance, we give them interest-free loans if they want to buy a house and that works well for everyone. It keeps the employees involved and committed for the long term, gaining valuable experience and continuously enhancing their skill sets. It boosts the morale, local economy and creates stability for the business and the village.”
Almost all the staff members are from Barrydale, but their star milkshake-maker is Ashley Janniker (aka Swag), originally from Elsies River. He used to work at a packaging company and enjoyed it, but the gangsterism on the Cape Flats became intolerable.
“Daai plek sal my nie weer sien nie,” he says flatly. “That place will never see me again.”
He relishes the quieter, more creative life.
“I have learnt how to experiment. I want to be different. Have you tried my Very Berry milkshake yet?”