An Interview With Guy Cluver
We recently had the pleasure of getting in touch with Guy Cluver, and have him share his passion as a restaurateur, what Bellevue Café and the staff have been doing in the background during the early days of Lockdown.
A Little Background About You For Our Readers
How did you get into the industry?
I started waitering at Legends Musgrave in 1990 in order to pay my university fees.
If you could do anything else, what would you do?
There’s nothing at all that I would rather be doing with my life.
How do you spend your downtime?
I spend time with my wife, Shelley and two daughters Sarah and Amy. I have a passion for endurance exercise, triathlon and riding bikes in particular.
Do you have a guilty food pleasure?
Who inspires you?
My staff who are the hardest working, most dedicated decent human beings. I am so lucky to work with them on a daily basis.
A Little Background About Bellevue Café
When did you know you wanted to start a business?
I always loved the restaurant business and realised quickly that I needed to own my own business in order to run it exactly how I wanted.
What were some of the challenges of operating Bellevue Café?
The long hours, we trade from 7 am until 10 pm every day except for Sunday when we close at 4. Banks are also very reluctant to lend money to independent restaurants.
Where did the inspiration for the style and atmosphere of Bellevue Café come from?
The very unique space in which we trade has played a major part in the style of café that we are. We have recently added wood-fired pizza to our offering which is something that we have wanted to offer since inception on 2010. We have always strived to create a unique space in which our guests feel really comfortable. Be it on a Friday evening date night, Tuesday mid-morning business meeting, Sunday morning breakfast with the family ( and the dogs!)
Your Journey During COVID-19
Covid-19 has taken a toll on many businesses, how did you deal with the initial nationwide lockdown?
I was actually relieved when lockdown happened as we were trading so poorly due to capacity and alcohol restrictions. With hindsight, we probably locked down too early but it's hard to blame the government for that now.
How has Covid-19 affected your outlook on the industry?
The rest of 2020 is going to be incredibly hard but we have an obligation to our staff to ensure that the business survives.
This means short time for all staff and wage cuts. We are not retrenching anyone and are preserving jobs via short time. We are confident that the good times will return and then staff will resume full work hours and remuneration.
Five weeks into lockdown and you and your team were ready to get back into the kitchen, and partnering with Zero2Five you have been cooking up a storm for vulnerable communities, what was the driving force for turning your kitchen into an operational kitchen?
The founder of zero2five, Julika Falconer is a personal friend of mine. She reached out to me and planted the seed by showing me what a restaurant in Cape Town called The Beer House had done. I initially didn’t pay her too much attention but warmed to the idea and the rest is history.
My collegue, kate Parry organised the necessary permits for our waitering crew ( who were not going to receive UIF) and the local community rallied around with cash and stock donations. We are winding up the project at the end of Mandela week on Friday the 18th.
Spar have donated 670 blankets, our waiters are now cooking at Cotswold Downs in the function kitchen and we aim to produce 670 x 5kk chicken stews. We have had 670 sanitisers and 670 body washes donated. So we are going out with a bang! ( FYI the zero2five NGO received cash donations of over R320K during the project, there will be funds left over they, will use to look after the less fortunate).
The campaign has been very successful, what is the secret ingredient that makes this program so successful?
I think the fact that our community trusted us with their funds and stock donations says a lot about the way that our guests feel about Bellevue Café. We were told time and again that people were happy to donate as they knew that the money was being spent correctly and the aid was reaching the people who needed it.
Are you planning to continue the donating food parcels to the zero2five Trust program indefinitely?
We would like to remain involved but cannot obviously keep up the scale that we were doing during Lockdown. We were producing 800 meals a day which is now not possible. The intention is to remain involved and produce meals on our quietest day of the week. We will also continue the community work that we have always done with various charities, causes.
Looking Towards the Future
We are all patiently waiting for Covid-19 to pass and to see what a Post COVID world is going to be like, do you have any plans going forward?
We have renovated Bellevue Café and are very excited about what the future holds. I firmly believe that people want and need to engage with each other in public spaces. We are going to have to be very innovative and offer affordable luxury but “ the good old days are still to come!”
Big thank you to Guy Cluver for giving us some of his valuable time, and we are excited to see what he and his team of dedicated and hardworking staff have planned for the future.