EL homegirl has Midas touch with restaurants

After one ‘sad and solid’ lesson she has launched three busy successes

Natasha Hogg and Sanook Eatery chef Mzukisi Yiliwe. ‘Whatever success [husband] Jamie and I have had, it is all about the people alongside us, and right now there are 150 of them,’ says Natasha.
GREAT TEAMWORK: Natasha Hogg and Sanook Eatery chef Mzukisi Yiliwe. ‘Whatever success [husband] Jamie and I have had, it is all about the people alongside us, and right now there are 150 of them,’ says Natasha.
Image: SIBONGILE NGALWA

Some businesses seem to soar into the financial stratosphere.

Natasha Hogg, co-owner of Sanook Cafe, Sanook Eatery and Cantina and Craft, said her first venture never soared, and in fact she was lucky to get out with her R500,000 start-up contribution intact.

Hogg was born in East London and attended Hudson Park school. After matriculating in 1997, she went to Cape Town.

“I started as a waiter at Primi Piatti, which back in the 90s only had three branches. I loved the trade and after a few months was promoted to marketing, then on to working in most of the divisions. While I was there, Primi started its franchising network.”

In 2005, Hogg and a partner bought a Primi outlet, Primi Plush, in Johannesburg at a total cost of R3.5m.

Finance firm Business Partners took an equity stake and funded Hogg with R2.5m.

“We had to put in R500,000 each. We were the first female franchise owners. Initially it went well, but hidden costs sneaked up on us and after three years, we decided to sell. There is an old saying about ‘school fees’ and our Primi franchise taught us that we had not done sufficient homework.

“It was a sad but solid lesson in mostly what not to do.”

After selling her share, Hogg got an offer to invest a 20% share in a 52-room island hotel in Thailand. She handled every facet of the hotel business, with training again part of her portfolio. “It was rundown but a great location, and we quickly got it up to tourist standard. My husband Jamie, who is a qualified chef, was running a beer garden in Thailand at the time.

“Our Thailand adventure came to an abrupt halt when I fell pregnant, and we returned to East London.”

After a year’s sabbatical, the duo researched starting another restaurant. “East London is budget-conscious, and it demands quality. We decided to offer the best burgers in town and set up Sanook Café in Berea in 2013. It took off much better and faster than we had budgeted for. By 2015 we were ready to open another Sanook, this time the Eatery. The concept was similar - good value for money - but we wanted to do it even better.”

The “better” was at the Crossing in Beacon Bay, with a panoramic view. It had more seats, two wine cellars, a kitchen open to diners, and a tree in the middle of the room.

“Everyone comments on our tree at the Café, so we put one in the Eatery.”

The equally successful Cantina and Craft followed a year later. “I think I was blessed with a hard work ethic and, while I cannot really see it in myself, I’m told that I am a perfectionist, so I probably am. However, whatever success Jamie and I have had, it is all about the people alongside us, and right now there are 150 of them. Many have been with us from day one. Quite a few have grown into senior management positions.”

She said training and ongoing improvement was one of her passions. “We have formal sessions but much of it is on the job, learning as we go.

“I get a great kick out of customers telling me that we have a great team.”

Natasha and Jamie Hogg have an essential restaurant skill: they keep their customer happy. Trip Advisor has recently given their restaurants a customer feedback rating of 95% in the excellent and very good categories.

Trip Advisor comments from diners include: “Great menu with good, tasty food”, “Service was great and so were the staff”, “Food was incredible”, “Lovely food and vibe”, “Best value meals I have ever had”, “I highly recommend this place” and “Never lets you down”.

“My initial R500,000 is really well-travelled. It started with selling my flat in Cape Town, through to buying into Primi, over to Thailand, then back to East London. I used R200,000 to start Sanook, and since then we have self-funded the next two.”

Natasha Hogg is one of the local panelists on Daily Dispatch’s “Corporate Disruptor” summit on July 25 in EL.

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