This story is told from the experience and perspective of Rejeanne Vlietman, the GM of Den Anker, one of the oldest waterfront restaurants at the V&A Cape Town.
Being in the restaurant game as well as in the alcohol distribution sector, with consumption taking place on and off premises, Den Anker was in the midst of their season when everything changed. The season had started with the Belgian Beer Co working hard at keeping brands relevant after the 2 prior tough years in the industry, when they had worked relentlessly, forging valuable partnerships that were mutually beneficial.
Den Anker had served Belgian beers and Belgian inspired dishes, and at the start of 2020, was still a bustling hub of activity, enjoying the influx of tourists and locals frequenting its harbor-side terrace with myriads of people being captivated by the beauty of Cape Town and savoring the joy of familiar faces, when Lockdown was announced.
Whilst they had made a valiant attempt at remaining open, the many opposing factors like the low footfall, the typical Cape Town Winter (at that time of the year), social distancing and the restrictions on alcohol consumption coupled with COVID, lead to them capitulating, and suspending all services for the foreseeable future.
Rejeanne believes the next few months will be tough but says they plan to do their best, minimize their risks wherever possible, and strive to remain on top of their game.
The Vlietmans have teenage boys, and found home schooling to be a challenge for the younger one. On the contrary, they discovered that spending time in each other’s space had had great advantages. ‘’I feel like this is the longest period I have been around my boys for their entire life and we have gained a new understanding of each other. We are still fairly home-bound, aside from school, fresh air, work and the odd grocery shop.’’ Says Rejeanne.
On the benefits of social media Rejeanne feels it generally facilitates the promotion of businesses and provides a platform from which to remain abreast with the constant changing landscape of how the industry operates. Rejeanne however tends to keep away from certain social media channels because she finds ‘’keyboard warriors’’ and negative threads are triggers that notoriously create undue anxiety.
”I have always been very focussed on business and the development of my team.” Says Rejeanne, ”COVID has given me a space to connect with many wonderful people and create spaces where I feel purposed to use my strengths in a more meaningful way; to uplift those who are needing to find a way to be more self-sustaining. I am in a place where I have come to realize that I have a responsibility to listen more, and then encourage, as opposed to take the lead and expect people to like and share my ideas. I am extremely purposed right now, to work toward a renewed social contract in SA and feel that the time for this has been presented to us. I believe I am privileged to be born for a time such as this, and have every intention of seizing each moment.”
Regarding the impact of the isolation COVID-19 restrictions have placed on life in general, she believes this can be viewed in various ways. ‘’I worry about people who started lockdown and fully embraced it, with existing underlying social anxiety. This space could potentially be a breeding ground for drama further down the line. Trying to create a balance during this already totally foreign space is hard for most people I think. We have to try and take the good with the bad, I guess and be grateful for the time together but being mindful of the fact that not everyone has had the opportunity to be comfortable, warm and have food on their tables.’’
Rejeanne, clearly a person who knows how to extract the best out of a situation, has summed up her immediate future as being a time to work on projects that can create sustainable solutions around micro economies. She believes in encouraging others who need to rebuild their confidence and dignity. Prioritizing growth being essential in various areas of life, SME development, mentoring around business building, sustaining self-belief and the will to want to be the best version of one’s self.
One profound nugget from the Lockdown experience for Rejeanne, was to never take anything for granted, to remember your responsibility to people and to make sure you create capacity for those you care deeply about.