The Overberg village of Greyton has a sweet tooth and Richard von Geusau is the man who put it there. Meet Greyton’s chocolate man…
Every small town worth its salt should have a butcher, a baker and a website-maker. But to really make it at the top end of country living, your chosen village preferably should also have a chocolatier. It makes all kinds of sweet sense.
Greyton has such a person. Richard von Geusau not only produces some of the best chocolate in the land, but is an interesting case study for someone thinking of starting up a small, creative business in the platteland.
Sixteen years ago, Richard and his wife Terry lived in a trendy suburb of Cape Town. She was an architectural designer, he head of finance at a high-end fashion company. By any measure they had it good. The money was more than enough, they had a great house. But the stress of it all was getting to Richard. He started to depend on their occasional Greyton escapes to restore some level of sanity before the next hectic work-week began.
Then one Saturday morning, someone knocked on their door and made them a very generous offer for their house in Lakeside, on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula. Thrilled, they headed straight off to Greyton, where they found the house of their dreams for sale. The price was the exact sum they had just been offered for their Cape Town spot. Coincidence? They thought not.
Richard and Terry put in an offer for the Greyton place, and it was accepted immediately.
“We woke up that morning, thinking it would be just another day,” says Richard. “By that afternoon, we were committed to a move to the country and our lives would change forever. I contacted an astrologist friend of mine a while later and asked him what was significant about that date. He said all signs pointed to Change. I said ‘No kidding’.”
All went well at first. Richard left on good terms with the company and they hired his services part-time, which entailed a little commuting. Eventually he scaled it down further and started doing accounts and building projects for people in and around Greyton. But the day came when he realised he “wasn’t having a heap of fun”.
Around that time he wandered into a bookshop, and saw a tome on chocolate, called The Food of the Gods by Chantal Coady. Richard bought it on impulse. “It made me wonder if there was a gap in the market – a need I could fill. I did research and contacted Chantal.”
Great things began to happen after that – a journey of serendipity. Chantal gave him tips on visiting Belgium, land of chocolatiers. On his trip, Richard fell even more in love with chocolate and began to envisage a small high-end business that hired a few local people and was sustainable. Greyton’s mild climate was also a bonus. Chocolate does not do well in temperature extremes.
Soon he was importing Belgian chocolate in five kilogram slabs and experimenting with flavours. His business background was invaluable in terms of connecting with potential clients. He started with a little shop in a corner of the Oak & Vigne restaurant, but now the shop is a small part of his business. The rest of it is making bespoke chocolate products for upmarket establishments, and pairing his chocolates and their subtle rich flavours with brandy, whisky and the best wines.
Richard has a small ‘Willy Wonka’ factory in Greyton, employing six people. Open the door to the nondescript building, and the rich smell of Belgian chocolate hits your nose immediately. “Everyone says it smells so amazing. Unfortunately I’m here so often I can’t smell it anymore,” he says wistfully.
When we walk in, Gaynor Abrahams is tempering milk chocolate in the corner. Jadey Williams and Urska Jacobs are pouring dark chocolate into moulds and then sprinkling rock salt on them. Johanna Potberg is busy wrapping slabs of Meerkat (a new range of rooibos milk chocolates), as her little boy peeps at us from under the table.
The creativity Richard was craving all his life is now expressed in new flavours. His career has changed from finance and stress to one of truffles, couvertures, bouchées, pralines and cocoa butters. He loves it, adores the taste of chocolate and has never tired of it. Although he just eats a little every day. “It’s good for you, especially the dark chocolate.”
The flavours are intense and authentic – chilli espresso, salted caramel, pear, lavender, cappuccino, vanilla and lemon, rose geranium, masala chai, rock salt, cinnamon, orange, ginger, hazelnut, Earl Grey tea, almond and orange peel, Cointreau, Amaretto, salted caramel and Muratie port.
“One of the secrets of this business is that you must continually innovate.”
Richard’s current favourite ‘snack’ is chocolate-covered raspberry ganache, which combines a just perfect tartness with 70 per cent chocolate. But his runaway bestseller at the moment is sugar-free chocolate. Sweetened instead with maltitol, this tastes just as good as the normal stuff and Capetonians cannot get enough of it.
Now Richard is pondering why South Africans still have chocolate bunnies at Easter. “Why not an Easter meerkat?”
Oak & Vigne Cafe, Ds Botha Rd, Greyton
+27 (0) 28 254 9100; +27 (0) 83 628 0029; [email protected]
Words Julienne du Toit
Photography Chris Marais and Les Bush