Former Spur CEO Pierre van Tonder has died

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Pierre van Tonder. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lerato Maduna)
Pierre van Tonder. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lerato Maduna)

Former Spur CEO Pierre van Tonder has died at the age of 62, just months after he stepped away from the business he helped to build for most of his life.

"Spur Corporation confirms that Pierre passed away peacefully in hospital at 18:45 on Sunday evening," a spokesperson told Fin24 in a message.  

Van Tonder had been in a critical condition in a Cape Town hospital for a week, after he shot himself at his Sea Point home last Sunday, according to a statement released by Spur at the time.

Born in Cape Town, he matriculated from Wynberg High School. After starting his career at Pick n Pay as a trainee manager, Van Tonder joined Spur as a 23-year old junior restaurant manager in Sea Point in 1982.

He left the group 38 years later, heading Spur since 1996.

Van Tonder previously told Fin24 that he was fortunate to join Spur at a very young age. ”I learnt from the back door to the front door. It always gives me a sense of passion for this industry."

During his time as CEO, the group grew to more than 600 restaurants in some 20 countries, and expanded its brand portfolio to include Italian food chain Panarottis, burger joint RocoMamas, steak restaurant The Hussar Grill and seafood restaurant John Dory's.

Among the challenges Van Tonder faced was the company’s relatively unsuccessful expansion in the UK and Australia, which resulted in the closure of some restaurants. In 2017, Spur was engulfed in a race row – which resulted in a prolonged boycott – after footage of a white man threatening a black woman at a Spur branch went viral.

But the biggest challenge of his career came in 2020, after Covid-19 ravaged the business he spent most of his life building. Spur restaurants were closed for weeks during hard lockdown, and clients stayed away out of fear for the pandemic, while repeated alcohol bans throttled Spur's income.

Talking to News24 about the impact of the pandemic, Van Tonder said that "one could say: 'Jeez, this is terribly unfair.' (But) it's not going to really help you, in any sense. You have to be optimistic and you have to look at what's happening out there to see what opportunities are created. I wouldn't see it any other way. Hopelessness is not something we like to put into our vocab.

"(We’ve) had so many tsunamis come our way. Whether it be very poor economic times, whether it be political change, whether it be social changes in South Africa. I think South African businesspeople are resilient. Even if you look at the successes that some of our executives had overseas: I think their resilience and their positive attitude and the experiences they've been through in South Africa, you know, stood the test of time."

When he stepped down at the end of last year, Van Tonder said that Spur required a "different kind of leadership" going forward. Val Nichas was appointed as his successor.

Following his resignation, Van Tonder said he was not yet ready to slow down, and wanted to assist other businesses, he told Fin24. He worked as a consultant to franchise businesses in recent months.

Van Tonder credited his entrepreneurial spirit to his mother "who was a businesswoman in her own right", he told News24. He was married for more than thirty years, and had to two adult children.

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