As mother’s day is this weekend, I thought it was only appropriate to shed a little light on the wonderful human that is my mom. She is the face of our company and a veteran in this industry. I believe she’s also the only reason I’ve made it as far as I have in my career. My mom is the reason I’ve picked myself up over and over again after every fall, because that is who she is and I’m so honored to be her daughter.
A little history on Sharon van Tonder and why she is who she is in this industry. A very long time ago, when me and my sister were mere pipsqueeks: My Mom and Dad took on the Tea Garden at Lifestyle Garden center. They ran it and they ran it well. It was packed every weekend and it desperately needed an upgrade. So plans went into motion to build a bigger restaurant, one of the highlights to this plan was the Tea Room upstairs. If you know my mom, you’ll understand how important a good pot of tea is. It was an elegant spot that served loose leaf tea and cake, served with silverware and linen napkins. You know… as it should be.
The restaurant expanded into a 450 seater, the kitchen was enormous, there was a cold room, 2 cold kitchens and an extensive hot kitchen. Sadly during the renovations my father passed away in a very tragic and horrific car accident. So much so that it derailed all of us. My mom broke her vertebra just below her neck, her hands and wrists were damaged and my sister’s jaw was shattered. It’s still too hard to talk about the details 24 years later but we were in hospital together for over 3 weeks as they couldn’t move my sister until she was stabilized. My aunt moved in and helped us back on our feet. The restaurant opening was a little bittersweet as he never saw their dream fulfilled. My father was a horticulturist as well as a restauranteur and the restaurant was named after his favorite, The Silver Birch. The bench dedicated to him still stands, even though the plaque is tarnished. It was a huge part of all of our lives.
Once this place opened though, it pumped. And it did not stop. We were full every weekend. Even so that I was given booking duty as a small person. People laughed but I never got their bookings wrong
My mom and my Aunt ran this place well, the food was excellent and we started getting a great reputation. The lemon meringue ( my Ouma’s recipe) was famous and had to be served from a deep pie dish. Just delicious.
My point about this is more that my mother was recovering, physically and emotionally, and still making sure that this enormous restaurant was the best she could make it, every single day. Every morning she welcomed customers with warmth no matter how stressful or painful things were for her. Fast forward a few years and my mom feels she’s had enough. They have a buyer and she reckoned it was time to move to new things. Onward and upward.
My mom bought a café in Illovo that had a good passing trade and serviced all the surrounding offices. The food was great and the hospitality was above par but it really wasn’t the right fit. My mom was familiar with eventing so offered her catering services to the surrounding offices. These platters were exemplary, and my mom quickly built a reputation for her offering. Oregano Catering kicked off with a bang! We had a large kitchen at home and enough storage space so my mom decided that a location in Illovo was just a waste of money and time. We were catering full time from home and did from 2002, so 20 years this year. So much happened in that time. My mom put me and my sister through private school, ran a successful business and still managed to be a great mom to us. We could never want for anything.
She built a business through reputation and referrals alone. Her catering was bespoke and personal. Her name and the name Oregano became synonymous with excellent catering. We still do catering but on a small scale and when we decided to open the bakery it started as a catering kitchen and then just grew into the lovely space it is now with catering taking a a bit of a back seat. I think my mom likes the personal service more anyway, she knows our regulars by name, remembers details about them and genuinely cares about them and their wellbeing.
I wanted to write this to show the pure stamina and will of my mom and how big her heart is. Today we had a massive setback and it almost broke me. My mom picked me up and told me we could manage if we were together. She had terrible tooth ache and her hands hurt from her arthritis but she put on a big smile and served customers as she always does. My mother is in her sixties now and still works most of us under the table. She was baking and cooking and making stellar coffee while all of this chaos was happening. And no one knew the wiser because she’s a Pro, always has been and always will be.
I strive to be half the woman my mother is, she really is a hero to me.
“ One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’