An organic process

2013-12-19 13:00

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When Beth Cameron opened organic restaurant voodoo lily in Melrose two years ago, she had no idea it would soon become a hot Jozi favourite

I decided to open the eatery because…

I wanted to create a community space – a place where everyone would feel at home while enjoying fantastic food. I worked in the restaurant industry for six years in Edinburgh, Scotland, before returning home to Joburg for the birth of my niece Emma Lily. I decided to name the place Voodoo Lily, because of my niece and because it is one of the rarest flowers in the world.

The hardest part of turning an idea into reality is…

Finance. I put a business plan together, which was a long and tedious process, and then started pitching it to banks.

The problem is banks aren’t keen to back restaurants because they are high risk, especially if the owner is only 27 and has no collateral.

I then begged from friends and family until Voodoo Lily was financed (if barely) and I was ready to go. After buying all the necessary equipment and getting the space presentable, I started the business with zero cash flow.

Every week, the money we made in the shop was used to buy stock for the following week. We’re about to do a total revamp in the new year, so all the hard work seems to be paying off.

I learnt pretty early on that…

Being the one who has to pay the bills is not easy.

When I opened Voodoo Lily I had to manage the restaurant floor while learning to balance the books, invoices, suppliers, payslips, accounts and Excel sheets – I almost broke down.

But I’ve learnt how these things work now, and with the help of my unbelievable staff we seem to get through every day.

We stay on trend because…

We change our menus, repaint the shop and have launch parties every few months to keep things fresh.

My two managers, Sam and Heidi, are big foodies and can be found at every new eating and drinking joint.

They keep me up to date with what’s in and what’s not. I have family in the UK, so when I visit I get service and design ideas from all the great café spots.

Anyone who wants to start a business should…

Make sure it’s what they’re passionate about. There are lots of great ideas out there and lots of ambitious people so make sure you’re going to stand out from the crowd.

Most important lessons I’ve learnt

• Never give up: problems don’t disappear until you solve them.

• Be patient and listen: everyone works in different ways and you need to compromise if necessary.

• Work as a team. Although I like to lead,

I love being part of a team even more. I’m completely transparent with my staff.

• You have to be present: you need to be there to roll out the business plan.

• Take advice: there’s no need to make all the mistakes yourself if you listen to other experienced business owners.

Some of our highlights have included

• Winning Best of Joburg’s Best Neighbourhood Restaurant.

• Watching friends and regulars having a good time and seeing that every breakfast, lunch and dinner we’re full – you have to be proud of that.

25: The number of years the ethical certification label Fairtrade has been in existence. Voodoo Lily serves Fairtrade coffee, which means the coffee bean farmer has been paid a fair price for his produce.

Did you know?

Voodoo lilies are known for their unusual flowers and strong odour similar to rotten meat – a smell that attracts the flies that pollinate the plant.

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