Women at the helm
The saying goes that behind every successful man is a strong woman. However, this goes for one of Hartbeespoort’s most popular restaurants. A formidable mother and daughter team is behind the well-known Upperdeck outdoor restaurant and live music venue and they are holding on tight to the success recipe of the past 20 years.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Vanessa. “My dad and a partner started the business 20 years ago and their concept of an outdoor, informal family live entertainment venue was a hit. The concept is still the same and I think the fact that it offers something for everyone is one of the big reasons for its success.”
Vanessa took over the management from her father 18 years ago and her 26-year-old daughter, Shelby has also joined the team. This was definitely not a career choice, she says. Life throws unexpected curve balls. “I was just divorced with two little children and I needed a job. I started working for my dad at Upperdeck as waiter and bar lady and then jack of all trades. I just fell into it and went from there. This is the mostly unlikely career for me, I keep out of a kitchen as much as I can. I don’t even cook at home!”
However, her job became her life up until four years ago when she got the surprise of her life. “My son, Kyran, and Shelby were already grownups and suddenly I found myself pregnant at the ripe age of 45! I cried for a few weeks and then Mila came along and my life changed. Now I cannot imagine life without her.”
…you have to be on your toes every second.
It is evident the little blonde blue-eyed girl has her mother wrapped around all her little fingers. “She is spoilt rotten but she has given me a new lease on life. She has taught me patience. She exhausts me, but she also energises me. I don’t know if she will keep me young or kill me!”
Working with her older daughter in the business has brought them closer together too. “We are good friends, most of the time… when we scream, we scream loud and then move on,” Vanessa laughs. “We are both a bit fiery but the older she gets, the better it goes. And I cannot afford to upset her too much, she sometimes has to babysit,” she jests hugging the precocious four-year-old clambering onto her lap.
“I am trying to take off more time at work to spend with Mila but the business has become so much part of my life that it is very hard to let go. It is a full time job, and I mean full time… very long hours and very late nights and the people you work with are not easy. It takes a team of 70 to make the business tick and you have to be on your toes every second. I am grooming Shelby to take over and maybe in a couple of years I can do something that does not involve food at all,” she laughs. “I will just do creative things like paint, mosaic and play with Mila.”
In the meantime, the mother and daughter team has also opened a gift shop in Hartbeespoort. “This was Shelby’s idea and it is an outlet for our creative sides, something totally different from the family business. We don’t have enough time yet but it is something fun to do. Running a big concern like the restaurant is not an easy career but I know it will also be hard to let go. Even now when I take time off to have pyjama parties with Mila, I sometimes miss the bustle of the business. One becomes married to the business, but since Mila’s arrival I have become less of a control freak and maybe in the near future I will be able to do something that involves no eisbeins,” she laughs.