Karoo Restaurant fundraiser to aid Puerto Rico organizations

By K.C. Myers
Posted Oct 11, 2017 at 6:14 AM

EASTHAM — Karoo Restaurant will hold a fundraiser for two organizations in Puerto Rico, the Sato Project and World Central Kitchen.

Karoo owner Sanette Greonewald will donate 15 percent of the restaurant’s proceeds from Oct. 18 through Oct. 22. The money will be divided between the two foundations, according to a statement from the restaurant.

The Sato Project focuses primarily on rescuing and rehabilitating abandoned and abused dogs from a beach named Dead Dog Beach in the area of Yabucoa, on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico. Dogs are cared for and shipped to Newark Liberty International or John F. Kennedy International airports for adoption. To learn more or donate: thesatoproject.org

Karoo also will donate to the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization founded by Jose Andres. It promotes cleaner cooking, kitchens in schools to support feeding programs and culinary training to elevate the hospitality workforce. The World Central Kitchen has been serving people in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. The group’s goal is to serve at least 20,000 meals per day in eight kitchens around the country. To learn more or donate: worldcentralkitchen.org.


A taste of South Africa in North Eastham


March 31, 2013
NORTH EASTHAM — Sanette Groenewald whirled around to a visitor, her eyes flashing with excitement.

“This is the baby,” Groenewald said, opening the door to a walk-in freezer. “I never thought I’d have one of these.”

The expansive space at her new location in North Eastham wows her. Groenewald stuffs portable freezers wherever she can find space at Karoo Kafe, her Provincetown eatery which is about a tenth the size of her new digs.

Plenty of newness drives Groenewald these days. She opened her South African cafe in Provincetown in 2002, but this will be the first year in which she’ll run two restaurants at once.

Karoo Restaurant opens Monday as a year-round dinner establishment. The Provincetown cafe is a seasonal business which serves lunch and dinner.

Groenewald bought the bank-owned Eastham property within Main Street Mercantile late last fall. She and her staff have spent months turning the building into a South African restaurant. There are earth-toned reds, yellows, oranges and browns integrated into the flooring and walls to celebrate the landscape colors of her native country. There is a map of South Africa near the entrance, explaining that Karoo is a semi-desert region of the country.

And there’s plenty of space for Groenewald to dream about what’s next.

“We call that the future,” she said, pointing to stairs leading to a third floor that has a giant room and outdoor deck. The floor could be turned into a sports bar, a music venue or several other options. But this year, she and the staff are focusing on kick-starting the new restaurant.

Groenewald, who lives in Eastham, will spend her time between the two restaurants, with the entire existing Provincetown crew staying at the current restaurant.

“I wanted that consistency,” she said.

In Provincetown, food is served on paper plates while the Eastham restaurant will feature a wait staff and “real knives and forks,” she said. But while the presentation may differ, the menus will be very similar.

“People are expecting Karoo’s food,” she said.

Days before the grand opening, Groenewald still marveled at her new restaurant’s expansiveness. When she first checked the property out, it overwhelmed her. But now, she embraces its size as her new restaurant takes hold.

“You have to take this opportunity,” she said.

Jim Russo, executive director of the Eastham Chamber of Commerce, said he was “thrilled” Groenewald was opening a spot in town.

“She has a fantastic reputation not only for the product, but for the service and consistency,” he said.

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Summer survivor Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Summer survivor
Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Tuesday, September 7, 2004

PROVINCETOWN – With the sun darting in and out of clouds and the lunch rush over, Sanette Groenewald takes a short break before the dinner rush at her small
Commercial Street restaurant.

Although Groenewald, owner and founder of Sanette’s Karoo Kafe, appears tanned and rested, looks can be deceiving.

She works marathon hours during the summer, so taking a respite on an early August day is rare for this no-nonsense entrepreneur determined to make it in an industry with high turnover and failure rates.

Like many local restaurateurs, she sacrifices her personal life in the summer, when most Cape and islands businesses have to earn the bulk of their annual income.

Specializing in South African, Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, Karoo debuted on Memorial Day weekend 2002. Since then, the restaurant has survived two lackluster tourist seasons and is nearing the end of its third summer. It hasn’t been an easy ride. Around 80 percent of small businesses don’t make it past five years, according to estimates by the Service Corps of Retired Executives, a volunteer group that counsels small businesses.

Groenewald works virtually around the clock during the so-called season – roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day. She has spent just three days away from the cafe since mid-May. This summer, daily hours are from 11 a.m. to about 9:30 p.m. or later depending on the crowds. 

Despite the long hours, her anxiety over running a small business has subsided somewhat despite the vagaries of diners’ palates, weather and the economy. Groenewald now knows how better to gauge her business cycle, making adjustments wherever and whenever necessary. Knowing the cadence of her customers and keeping up with industry trends has also helped.

She is so confident of her own success that she recently signed a five-year lease
for her 650-square-foot space on Commercial Street.

Groenewald is determined to make it work. The plucky 37-year-old, who grew up
outside Cape Town, has poured gallons of sweat and tears into the cafe, not to
mention her life savings. It took about $60,000 to get started, including $12,000 of her own money. Groenewald borrowed the balance. There’s simply no room for failure.

“I’m too stubborn to quit,” she says.

Since opening three summers’ ago, much has changed at tiny Karoo, which could aptly be named the Little Cafe that Could:

Groenewald has incorporated the business;

The cafe’s rent jumped from $19,000 to $22,000, and must be paid in full by mid-July.

Groenewald launched her own product line, Karoo Foods, featuring homemade bottled sauces;

She has increased the cafe’s inventory of South African wares (candies, teas and
coffees) and also sells a variety of Putumayo World Music CDs by African, Latin
American, Middle Eastern and Afro-Caribbean artists.

The cafe made the Zagat restaurant guide and is now open from March until Thanksgiving;

Seating has been expanded from 10 to 16 tables.

Most of her original staff is still with her, though she’s currently down a person
in the kitchen.

The menu remains eclectic, featuring everything from high-protein tofu items to
vegetarian dishes, falafel, couscous, ostrich, wild boar sausage, salads and curried
chicken salad. There’s also smoked salmon, spinach and feta pies, and plenty of
spicy and milder African and Middle Eastern dishes.

The less adventurous can order tuna salad, grilled cheese and other American fare.

“It’s working, so I just need to find the exact avenues in which to grow,”
Groenewald says. She thinks there’s plenty of room to expand her product line and increase her inventory of South African items. And she’s attracting a clientele.

“To become an established place, where people keep on coming back to you, you can’t just do a three-year gig,” she says.

“During the summer, yeah, it’s tourists. But it’s tourists that I’ve known for three
years, and now they bring the friends and the family and the kids will bring their
parents, so that’s really nice.

“And then there’s a lot of new people that (say), ‘South African food? Never had it. Must try.’”

The exposure of the Cape Cod Times series as well as favorable write-ups in Yankee Magazine and The Boston Globe have helped business. And so has her increased experience.

“Opening this year was so easy. You’ve got everything down,” she says.

She can now gauge such variables as rent, gas and electricity, which are “pretty
much a constant” though costs have risen since she opened in 2002.

Food prices have spiked, too, including the cost of chicken, now around $2.40 a
pound. She has had to raise the price of a chicken sandwich from $6.95 to $7.25.

“Chicken prices just went nuts,” she says.

However, this is the first year Groenewald has put herself on the payroll, “so I’m
getting a little bit of money.”

How much is a “little bit?” Between $4 and $5 an hour.

Operating in a tourism economy has its ups and downs, with variables such as the
national economy and even the local weather forecast affecting the performance of a business. And, of course, in this age of heightened security concerns, many
Americans are not venturing as far from home as they did in the pre-9/11 world.

At Karoo, this July was down from last year, while June was a little better than the year before. June 2003, one of the rainiest on record on the Cape, was a virtual washout for many local businesses.

Despite better weather this summer, it’s still been rough, says Groenewald.

“I’m getting a good amount of traffic, but the amount of people in town is less, so, of course, the portion that you get is less,” she says.

Compared to some local establishments, Karoo appears to be ahead of the game.

“There’s a lot of places that are talking about being 30 to 35 percent down,” she
says, “so as long as I can hold up with last year, I’m doing good.”

She wonders if higher accommodation rates and stipulations such as five-night
minimums might be encouraging more day-trippers than overnight visitors. That hurts her nighttime business.

And, the Cape’s traditional three-month-long season is somewhat of a myth.

“Basically, it’s down to mid-July till Labor Day,” she says. “They always say,
‘Yeah, you’ve got three months to make a year’s money in,’ but you really don’t. You have August and half of July. Once Labor Day comes, it switches off.”

The spring is generally lousy, too.

“April, May – you don’t make any money,” Groenewald says. She doesn’t usually begin to turn a profit until August.

The restaurant can serve up to 240 meals on a midsummer’s day, but by early
September “you’re down to 85 and you maybe break 100 over the weekends again.”

The so-called shoulder season in the spring and fall “is gone,” she says, yet she
remains open anyway.

“Advertising,” she says, explaining why it’s worth staying open even if business is
slow. “That’s the time you feed the locals. … It’s an investment that pays off in
the long run.”

Karoo’s line of sauces and other retail items have helped keep the cafe on par with last year. She hopes to increase business with the help of the Internet.

She started bottling her own sauces last summer after receiving numerous requests from customers. Today, chutneys, hot sauces and perri-perri, a South African barbecue sauce, are among her best-selling items.

“In the first year, people were like, ‘Could I just buy a soup cup of that? I need
to take this home,’” she says. “So, for the second year, I started putting it in a
bottle and it’s working great.”

The one thing Groenewald has not managed to gauge is the weather, though her
business does tend to benefit from the odd rainy day. But a month’s worth of rain, as was the case in June 2003, is definitely bad for business, she says. “Sunny weather is great, but if it’s too hot and humid you don’t do lunch,” she says.

The perfect day is cloudy with a slight drizzle.

It’s like being a farmer: “If the weather is not right, you don’t harvest,” she says.

The cafe is usually busy from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. By 3:30 p.m., it’s time to catch up on food prep and get ready for the dinner crowd. Families usually start arriving by 5 p.m., followed by pre- and post-show crowds, since Provincetown is home to numerous clubs and theaters.

As more people trickle in for dinner, Groenewald rises from a table in the cafe’s
African-themed dining room, replete with zebra-striped seats and assorted artifacts, and heads for the kitchen. It’s a small-but-clean space where she and an assistant cook prepare more than 220 meals on a busy day.

Groenewald is determined to make her business work, citing the strong work ethic she acquired from growing up in South Africa.

“There’s just no option to fail because I don’t have my family, you know? Nobody’s going to pick me up,” she says. “I’ve had winters here that I was hungry, (and) that’s enough motivation to keep you going.”

For her, the trials of running a business come down to a simple maxim: A person can either give up and say “please save me, or just do it.”

She chooses the latter.

Time to breathe Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Sunday, September 15, 2002


PROVINCETOWN – This spring Sanette Groenewald spent all $12,000 of her savings and borrowed another $41,000 to open her small cafe off Commercial Street.

Then she worked day and night to make it succeed.

“It’s like holding on for dear life on a wild horse,” Groenewald said this week about her first summer in business. “On some days it gallops in the right direction and everything is ideal. Sometimes, something spooks it and it gallops in a different direction you don’t expect, and you just hold on.”

Several times this summer, she had to grip the reigns tightly: when she parted ways with one of her cooks; when she had a dispute with a plumber; when somebody tampered with the natural gas tanks behind her cafe.

She had to hang on through much of July when business was slower than expected, and in August when she faced the opposite situation – so much business she had trouble keeping up.

A native of South Africa, Groenewald, 35, serves a mix of South African, Middle Eastern, Indian and traditional American food. Her cafe is tiny, only about 650 square feet including the kitchen, and has just 10 seats.

Overall, her summer was a success. Karoo Kafe fell about $600 under Groenewald’s projections in July, but it made $6,000 to $8,000 more than she expected in August.

“All in all, I know I’m really lucky and blessed with what happened this summer,”Groenewald said Tuesday afternoon, sitting on the deck of her cafe.

In opening a small business, Groenewald is fighting the odds. Eighty percent of small businesses don’t last five years, either because they fail or the owners move onto something else, according to estimates by the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Restaurants can be especially difficult.

Groenewald will stay open into December with reduced hours. She will return to her native South Africa for Christmas and reopen the cafe in January. She will spend much of the winter trying to improve her business and getting ready for the high season. She hopes her second summer will take her for a smoother ride through the wild world of business on Cape Cod.

Someday, she hopes to earn enough money to bring her parents to the United States to see the life she’s built here in the past seven years. She can’t afford that yet, but she expects her sister to return with her in January for a visit.

This summer has been a blur. Groenewald hired a staff. Most were strangers. Most of them became her friends. Now all but two are gone. She knows she couldn’t have chased her dream without their help.

“Saying good-bye was difficult,” Groenewald said. “You don’t know if you’re going to see them again.”

Now the cooler, slower days of September have replaced the hectic pace of August. Commercial Street is by no means empty, but it’s finally passable.

September has given Groenewald a welcome chance to rest and catch her breath, but she worries because business this month has been slower than she expected.

“I’m still in the race, but it’s starting to slow down a bit,” she said. “There’s still a lot that can go wrong. If September doesn’t improve, it may wipe out August.”

Before the season, she projected how many meals per day she needs to serve in order to keep ahead of her bills. Her projections call for 150 per day in September. So far, she’s not meeting that and she’s cutting staff hours to compensate.

Groenewald worked every day in August – 31 days without a break. She found herself crying in the kitchen sometimes because she was just so tired. Her typical day was 16 hours long. She paid herself $1,200 last month, or about $2.42 per hour.

One day, Groenewald thought she was having a heart attack. She felt sharp pain near her breastbone and shoulder. She took a break and finally the pain went away. She thinks that she had a hiatal hernia and figures that was her body telling her to ease up. She closed the first two days after Labor Day, the only time she could afford the break.

“I think I’ve pushed myself to the limit this summer,” she said. “At one point at the end of the summer, I said, ‘OK, I’m tired.’ I’ve always been too stubborn to admit I’m tired.”

Groenewald can’t afford to get sick. She doesn’t have health insurance.

Groenewald is an experienced chef. She took business courses through the Lower Cape Cod Community Development Corp. before opening Karoo, but she learned plenty this summer.

The toughest part was predicting how many people would step off Commercial Street, walk up her steps and order food. Predict correctly and she’d know how much food to prepare and how much staff to schedule. There were plenty of days when she erred either way: too much staff and too few customers, or too few staff to meet the demand.

The difference between busy and slow could be vast. On its busiest day last month, Karoo served 340 meals, 96 of them in one crazy 11/2-hour period. On its slowest day, the cafe served 98 meals all day.

Groenewald intentionally kept her prices under $12. She thinks that helped her succeed, given the state of the economy. Visitors to Provincetown were cautious about their spending this summer.

Low prices also mean tight margins and Groenewald knows she must take steps to boost her revenue. Her hands are also tied by her 10-person seating limit. She cannot add seats until her building is connected to the town sewage system, perhaps more than a year away.

Her rent is also scheduled to increase from $19,000 to $20,000 next year.

To squeeze more money from the small building, Groenewald plans to add higher-priced dinner specials to the menu.

She also wants to add a retail element, selling her sauces and rubs. She has already started selling Karoo Kafe T-shirts.

That’s a good idea, said John Burns, economic development director for the
development corporation. Karoo’s menu is unique and customers who’ve developed a taste for items such as Karoo’s peri-peri sauce will probably want to take some home.

Burns’ agency has kept in close touch with Groenewald this summer. In addition to taking the business courses it offers, Groenewald borrowed $24,000 from the agency to help get her business started.

The agency has a lot invested in Groenewald and sometimes she feels like its “poster child.” After David Willard, a vice president of Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank and the president of the development corporation, stopped in for lunch, he contacted Burns and relayed some suggestions for improving business.

Working too much this summer hampered Groenewald’s creativity, her productivity and her personal life. There was no time for friends, fishing, riding her motorcycle or watching a sunset. She hopes to get her life back next summer.

She plans to take off one day a week next summer. She would like to remove herself enough from the business so that she could leave it in somebody else’s hands for a day or two.

Last week, she finally went out to dinner. It was the first time she had sat down for a meal in three months.

Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Sunday, August 11, 2002


PROVINCETOWN – The black clouds hovering over Provincetown Tuesday morning promisehope and prosperity for cafe owner Sanette Groenewald.

Finally, after a long, dry patch of weather and of business at her Karoo Kafe, the sky is set to deliver the kind of day that Cape Cod restaurant owners solicit in prayers and see in dreams.

A cold front moves across Cape Cod Bay, pushing away the muggy heat that has hovered over Cape Cod for much of the summer, leaving a gift of refreshing air.

Hazy, hot and humid weather can prove too much of a good thing for Cape Cod’s tourist industry. Sure, it draws visitors like bees to honey, but an extended heat wave keeps them on the beach, off the streets and out of the shops.

It leaves them lethargic, cranky and too hot to eat lunch.

“Your lunch business bombs out big time,” Groenewald says as she sautes onions Tuesday morning. “This is a perfect food day.”

Karoo Kafe serves its mix of South African, Middle Eastern, Indian and traditional American food daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., but the days run much longer for Groenewald and some of her staff.

Groenewald’s day typically begins before 8 a.m., while Provincetown is still stretching its muscles and shaking the sleep from its eyes. Commercial Street is passable and relatively calm. Delivery trucks idle in front of restaurants. Joggers sweat through their morning workouts and tourists drinking coffee hustle for cover from a rain shower.

Preparation is the key for meeting the day’s demands. Groenewald and her prep cook, Marcella Korabova, a student from the Czech Republic, spend the morning chopping mushrooms, trimming chicken breasts, baking pie crusts. Groenewald has a long list of food to prepare, but she spends part of her time fretting over when her ingredients will be delivered.

Groenewald needs cabbage to finish her curried slaw. She needs more onions and garlic to complete several other dishes, such as her falafel and hummus, but the delivery is more than an hour late.

“It pushes everything back,” she says.

Shortly before 10 a.m., she calls the delivery company. In a calm but firm tone, she explains that she needs her deliveries by 8 or 8:30 a.m. and asks how she can be moved up on the schedule.

Struggling through her first season, Groenewald knows she can take nothing for granted. Hanging up, she says, “If you don’t throw a hissy fit, they just throw you to the end of the line.”

The trucks arrive a few minutes later, but now the first customers are also arriving. Two local restaurant workers grab breakfast-to-go before starting their shift. Groenewald and Korabova will now have to juggle the remaining prep work with customer orders.

Korabova has been a “blessing … an angel,” Groenewald says. Hungry for hours and money to send home, Korabova eagerly works double shifts. She gets angry on days when Groenewald tells her that she needs to go home and rest.

Korabova has helped bail out Groenewald after the first major staffing problem of Karoo ‘s season. Richard Adame, a cook, and Groenewald have parted ways a few weeks earlier.

Adame and Groenewald had been friends for several years. Adame has worked as a bartender in Provincetown, and has dreams of opening his own restaurant. To get a better understanding of kitchen operations, he had asked Groenewald for a job this spring.

Adame has had a busy summer. Working two full-time jobs, he was cooking days at Karoo and tending bar nights at Esther’s, another Provincetown restaurant.

Groenewald is reluctant to talk about it, but she believes Adame’s busy schedule interfered with his commitment to Karoo . Adame acknowledges his schedule was too full, and he needed to cut back. Their relationship in the kitchen suffered and so has their friendship. “It’s the last time I hire a friend,” says Groenewald. The cafe’s breakfast business has been slow this morning, as it has been most mornings. It’s a mixed blessing for Groenewald because it enables her and Korabova to concentrate on completing their prep work.

Around 11:30 a.m., employee Wendy Johnson suggests, “I’ll shake a leg.” Johnson means she will leave the cafe’s counter and try attracting customers on Commercial Street.

Karoo faces a challenge in its location. Its site is on Commercial Street, but the cafe itself is on the side of the building, off the street, and not easily noticeable to passersby.

Groenewald has painted a colorful sign, which is posted on the street. A flag from Groenewald’s native South Africa also beckons diners, but Commercial Street in the summer is a barrage of sites, sounds and smells. Groenewald knows it’s easy to get lost in the mix.

She asks the three employees who regularly work the counter – Johnson, Daniella Bonanno and Jodi Bromberg – to spend part of their shifts on the street.

With a stack of menus and a polished sales pitch, Johnson stands on the sidewalk, trying to make eye contact. “South African food with entrees for under $8,” she says.

By lunchtime, Commercial Street is a sea of people. Bicycles. Strollers. Cars can barely pass. Some people keep walking as if Johnson is trying to recruit them for a cult or sell them a used vacuum cleaner.

“When I first started barking, I used to shout,” Johnson explains. “Now I do it on an individual level.”

Her pitch works with a big family from Pennsylvania. Seven people. “A big score,” Johnson says.

Rick Borofski and his wife, Wendy, of Pittsburgh are visiting with their three children, Alexander, 9, Emma, 5 and Annie, 4. Wendy’s parents, Dave and Carol Hassler, are also vacationing with them.

The Borofskis and Hasslers have started their day on a whale watch, cut short because of rough seas. The same cold front that has helped Karoo has hurt other businesses. Another family inside the cafe, from Scotland, have been on a sailing trip that got washed out.

The Borofskis and Hasslers fill six small tables. With another family inside, it doesn’t take long for the cafe to fill up. Rick Borofski is an easy-going guy who eats part of his meal standing up and doesn’t seem to mind. “The food’s good,” he
says, munching on a lobster roll.

The town limits Karoo Kafe to just 10 seats because it doesn’t want to overtax the septic system. Although it’s small, the restaurant could accommodate at least twice that on sunny days if chairs could be placed both inside and outside on the deck.

A bench along the deck can accommodate a few more people, but a couple of rain showers Tuesday morning have left it wet so most customers are trying to find seats inside.

Several people walk up to the cafe, see that chairs are unavailable, turn and leave. Groenewald hopes to add seats next year, after the building she leases hooks up to the town sewer system.

By 12:30, the restaurant is humming. The line for ordering is seven deep. People are sitting at all the tables. The deck has dried out enough for some people to grab seats on the bench.

In the kitchen, Groenewald and Korabova work fast and efficiently. The kitchen is just 108 square feet, but they never seem to get in each other’s way. The preparation is paying off. It takes Groenewald or Korbova just seven to eight minutes to send out each order.

Volume is important, Groenewald’s margins are tight. She figures she makes about 10 cents on the dollar. “You have to turn the tables quickly,” she explains.

Groenewald can never concentrate exclusively on cooking. She must keep an eye on the front of the restaurant, too. Sometimes she takes orders, then runs back to the kitchen to cook. Sometimes she delivers meals herself, hurrying out of the kitchen through a side door and onto the deck.

Noticing the crowd out front, Groenewald calls upstairs to employee Pat Medina. Medina is the bookkeeper and a jack-of-all-trades. When it gets busy, she drops her paperwork and helps downstairs. It’s busy. Medina comes down.

In the thick pace, a little blonde girl spills hot chowder on her foot. She screams. The two women accompanying her scurry to comfort her and take her to the bathroom to run cold water over her foot. Medina rushes for ice. A half-hour later, with the girl’s blistered foot in a bandage, all seems better, if not perfect with the world.
The little girl, wearing sunglasses, munches on a grilled cheese sandwich.

The lunch rush continues until about 2:30 p.m. Groenewald and Korabova, both working double shifts, begin preparing for dinner.

The long shift is typical for Groenewald. She’s put a lot of effort into her dream and while her cafe seems to be a hit, it hasn’t yet started paying off. She hopes the business turned a corner toward profitablilty in July. Karoo lost $17,000 in May, the first month it was open. It lost $4,000 in June, but made $6,000 in July. Groenewald needs another $11,000 profit this year to break even.

Groenewald hadn’t planned to pay herself much, but it’s been even less than she expected. She makes far less per hour than any of her employees, less than minimum wage. Groenewald paid herself $1,200 last month. Working more than 100 hours per week, she’s earning less than $3 per hour.

At about 3 p.m., Petr Koranda, a prep cook, shows up for his evening shift. “Oh, boy, we’re ready for you,” Groenewald says. Koranda has to help prepare for the dinner crowd.

Koranda, also from the Czech Republic, is pleased that he has finally moved into a house. Sunday has been his first night in a real bed since his arrival; he lived the first month in a campground.

Tuesday, lunch has been busy at Karoo . The cafe has served more than 100 meals. In making projections for her business plan, Groenewald had determined she would have
to serve 200 meals per day in July and August. This day, she’s already more than
half way there.

At 3 p.m. Daniella Bonanno relieves Johnson on the counter. The restaurant is quiet and the staff catches its breath. A nice breeze blows across the deck. Ella Fitzgerald plays on the stereo. Johnson thinks its a “perfect time for Ella.”

Karoo continues to serve food, but business probably won’t pick up again until after 5 p.m. Groenewald says this period, from 3 to 5 p.m., is ice cream time for tourists.

By contrast, Commercial Street is a mob scene. Families in Cape Cod T-shirts take in the sights and sounds. Baby strollers are pushed by couples of men and women; women and women; men and men. A shirtless man with pierced nipples holds hands with another man as he walks through the crowd.

Near MacMillan Wharf, tourists take turns taking pictures. Children fresh from the Whydah Pirate Museum walk past with pirate swords and hats. An older man gently wipes ice cream from the face of his disabled grown son.

Provincetown Harbor is sparkling blue. The tide is out revealing the dark edges of
the beach. A group of children plays what appears to be a combination of soccer and
baseball with long sticks.

By 5:45 p.m, back at Karoo Kafe, Bonanno has moved the candles on the tables
outside. The cafe takes on a slightly different feel at night. “It makes it feel
cozy,” she says.

Bonano spends part of her time behind the counter explaining the unique foods on Karoo ‘s menu. “Peri-peri” is a South African barbecue sauce, she explains to one customer. It’s hard to tell whether he’s disappointed or relieved when she explains that Karoo ‘s lobster roll is a typical lobster roll – lobster and mayonnaise.

The evening builds slowly with a mix of townies and tourists stopping by for takeout or dinner on the deck, which is buffeted by a comfortable breeze that hints of fall.

The energy picks up when Toni Hadi arrives shortly before 7 p.m. Hadi, a retired school principal wearing a bright yellow dress and bright lipstick, is planning a big night, but she’s a little miffed.

“I thought they were going to reserve some tables,” she says, carrying a gift. She is hosting a 40th birthday party for her friend, Ana Carter.

Groenewald comes out from the kitchen to resolve the problem. “I only have 10 seats,” she explains. Groenewald seems to know half of her customers, including Hadi and Carter.

Hadi stakes out one table. When another opens up, the problem solves itself. Carter, a waitress at the Crown and Anchor, seems pleasantly surprised when she arrives to find a group of friends.

“We’re all past 40 and happy she finally got there,” Hadi explains.

Bonanno has been busy taking orders and delivering food, but she has received some help from a beautiful little girl named Alyssa, who has been eating with her grandparents, Larry Mahan and Tom Hochard.

Alyssa, who has celebrated her own 5th birthday on Tuesday, has been swimming all day and rests her head on the table before thoughts of waitressing perk her up. She helps Bonanno deliver Hadi’s peri-peri chicken wings on rice.

Hochard, who owns a landscaping company, has an interesting business relationship with Groenewald. He barters for food in exchange for taking care of her plants.

He has provided her with potted plants of zebra grass, red petunias, and lobelia, which has blue flowers. He wants the plantings to be consistent with Karoo ‘s African theme and match the color of her sign.

Hochard was a lawyer for a Manhattan firm before deciding to make a change. “I was just burnt out,” he says. “I decided to do what I loved.”

The name of his business: A New Leaf Landscaping.

By 8:50 p.m., Groenewald is sitting in the kitchen doorway, compiling a list of food she must prepare for the next day. Fortunately, the refrigerator is right next to her, so she can look inside and survey what she needs. She’s tired and doesn’t want to stand up.

A family huddled in sweatshirts, eats on the deck. A lone man reads by candlelight, eating his soup. A little girl in a lifeguard sweatshirt asks Bonanno for vinegar for her fries.

Emily Whiting and Christa Torrens are the last customers of the day. They’re from Cambridge and visit Provincetown two to three times a year.

A few minutes before 9 p.m., Groenewald takes down her “open” sign and removes the South African flag hanging on Commercial Street. It’s been a good day, thanks in big part to the breezy weather. With a kitchen to clean, Groenewald still has hours to go before she sleeps.

“This is more or less what I expected July and August would be like,” Groenewald says, after serving 230 meals. “Hopefully it will stay cool for a while.”

Editor’s note: Late each spring, scores of dreamers open their own businesses on Cape Cod, gambling their savings on a few short months. This summer, the Times will periodically follow the owner of a new cafe in Provincetown as she tries to create her own season of opportunity. This is the fourth installment.

Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Sunday, June 23, 2002

“Just keep your head down and work”
-Sanette Groenewald


Editor’s note: Late each spring, scores of dreamers open their own businesses on Cape Cod, gambling their savings on a few short months. This summer, the Times is periodically following the owner of a new cafe in as she tries to create her own season of opportunity.

Sanette Groenewald might have watched her last sunset of the summer Tuesday night.

Groenewald launched her business, Sanette’s Karoo Kafe, on Commercial Street in May.This week, she’ll start operating seven days a week, as she tries to beat the odds and succeed with a small business in the most seasonal of economies.

Already working 14- to 15-hour days, six days a week, Groenewald fears she might not have another chance to visit Race Point and watch the sun dip into Cape Cod Bay until September or October. That thought had her fighting tears as she left the beach Tuesday night – her last night off until the fall.

“It was beautiful,” Groenewald said. “There was a cloud that was in the perfect position. The colors started shooting up, then the water turned a mauve color.

“After Labor Day, I’ll see the sunset again.”

Groenewald, 35, has just about everything riding on her dream. She has spent all of her savings, $12,000, and has borrowed another $41,000 to get her cafe open and operating.

Then there’s the physical and emotional investment. Her work days typically start by 6:30 a.m. She doesn’t get home until 8:30 or 10:30 p.m., depending on how late the cafe stays open. For the next two weeks, she’ll close at 6 or 8 p.m. depending on the day. After July 1, she’ll be open to 9 p.m. everyday — and then tackle clean-upand paperwork.

“I get up. I work. I go to bed. I pass out,” she says.

Even before opening for business this spring, Groenewald spent hours buying and installing equipment, cleaning the cafe and painting it with colors and images reflecting her native South Africa.

She wonders when – or if – the hard work will start paying off.

She hasn’t been able to pay herself this month, although business has been stronger than she expected.

“I’m working just to pay my bills and pay my staff,” she said.

She had planned to pay herself only a modest amount in her first year – $1,500 per month. She paid herself in May, but so far not in June. She’s relying on credit cards to pay personal expenses. She has some cash left from last month but might need to draw $200 to $300 from the business to pay the $600 rent for her Truro apartment.

There’s one advantage to working so many hours. It’s kept her personal expenses low.”I’ve been living here, so I don’t have to buy food,” she said, sitting on her cafe deck last week.

Townies and tourists have responded well to Karoo Kafe’s mix of South African, Middle Eastern, Indian and traditional American food. (Actor Kevin Bacon visited the cafe last week.) Business was strong over Memorial Day weekend, and Groenewald said,last weekend was like “another Memorial Day” weekend. Despite the cool, rainy weather, Karoo served 160 meals Saturday and 140 on Sunday.

Groenewald’s projections suggested she needed to feed 60 people per day in June to break even. That projection will bump to 200 per day in July and August.

Business may have exceeded Groenewald’s projections, but so have some expenses,especially payroll.

Just last month, she worried about finding enough good help. The staff, including Groenewald, is now up to six. She’s pleased with the people she has hired and the way everyone is working together.

But scheduling workers presents a particular challenge in the restaurant business.Groenewald has had to bring workers aboard early in the season to get them trained,and she’s found herself overstaffed on some shifts because of the difficulty anticipating business.

Although business has been brisk on weekends, it’s been erratic during the week. Some days the staff must hustle to keep up with demand. On other days, they stand
around as only a few customers trickle into the cafe. At $9 or $10 per hour, the pay adds up. To help her schedule better next year, Groenewald is logging the number of customers she serves each day.

Groenewald is also facing some unexpected expenses. She needs a bigger refrigerator and a freezer chest. She expects the freezer to cost about $300. She hopes to spend less than $500 on the refrigerator.

Groenewald loves the reaction she’s getting from customers, but she got discouraged recently when she took a look at her profit-and-loss statement. The emotional stress of existing “so close to the bottom line” may be even more tiring than the physical stress of 14-hour work days.

A friend and fellow business operator, John Twomey, pulled her out of the doldrums.

“Don’t worry about that now,” Twomey told her. “Just keep your head down and work.”

Twomey has owned Twomey’s Restaurant and Irish Pub for five years so he knows the challenges of running a business in Provincetown. He says summer doesn’t really start until late June, and business owners must hustle to make their money in 12 weeks.

“I know how it is to clean the floor, clean the bathroom then wake up at 3 a.m. wondering if I’m going to make it, wondering how I’m going to pay that bill,” Twomey said.

A lot of bills are due even before the summer kicks into stride. For example,
Groenewald has already paid two-thirds of her $19,000 rent bill. Her final
installment is due July 15.

“You have your lease, your startup bills, your insurance,” Twomey said. “You’re not seeing the fruits of your labor. It’s not until the middle of August you actually see what’s going on for yourself.”

Before Groenewald opened her doors, Twomey gave her some of his extra restaurant equipment. He has “sort of” taken Groenewald under his wing because he respects the way she has worked her way up.

The two have a lot in common. Like Groenewald, Twomey is an immigrant, having come to the U.S. from Ireland 30 years ago. Both worked in the Provincetown restaurant industry before opening their own places.

Twomey’s encouragement was just what Groenewald needed to get through a rough period.

“Provincetown is like that,” Groenewald said. “When you need help, they reach out and give it to you. It’s a wonderful community.”

Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, MA) – Sunday, May 26, 2002

“I know what people are looking for. You need comfortable places to go and get food at reasonable prices.”
– Sanette Groenewald


Editor’s note: Late each spring, scores of dreamers open their own businesses on Cape Cod, gambling their savings on a few short months. This summer, the Times will periodically follow the owner of a new cafe in Provincetown as she tries to create her own season of opportunity.

PROVINCETOWN – Sanette Groenewald faces her first big test this weekend.

It is summer on Cape Cod, if only for the three-day weekend, and Groenewald, who has just opened Sanette’s Karoo Kafe in Provincetown, will have her first taste of the high season’s promise and demands.

Groenewald has poured all of her savings – $12,000 – into her quirky cafe off
Commercial Street. Her credit cards helped buy another $16,000 in equipment, and she’s borrowed $25,000 to help with cash flow.

Having left the “comfort zone” of a regular restaurant job to chase her dream,
Groenewald knows she’s taking a gamble.

“I’m scared out of my mind,” she says. “I go between really scared and really
excited 10 times a minute.”

She has good reason for both emotions.

Eighty percent of small businesses don’t last beyond five years, either because of poor performance or because the owners decide to move on to something else, according to estimates from the Service Corps of Retired Executives. Restaurants can be especially difficult. The little spot now occupied by Sanette’s Karoo Kafe has been home to several different businesses in the past three years, most recently the Lazy Dog Cafe.

But Groenewald thinks she can make it work. Trained as a chef in her native South Africa, Groenewald, 35, has a blend of South African, Middle Eastern, Indian and traditional American food on her menu. She believes she’s offering unique food at a reasonable price, and she envisions a mix of townies and tourists visiting her tiny cafe.

“I’m trying to give people something a little different. People are so ready for a new flavor and taste,” Groenewald says. “I know what people are looking for. You need comfortable places to go and get food at reasonable prices.”

Groenewald hopes to make enough money to fly her parents to the United States so they can see the life she has built here over the past seven years. When she really lets her dreams dance, Groenewald looks five years down the road and sees Karoo Kafe franchises. It’s a vision of the great American success story for a woman who left her native country because of increasing violence.

South Africa is a beautiful land, not unlike Provincetown in spots by the sea,
Groenewald says, but it’s also a place where she sometimes worked with a revolver wrapped in her apron for fear of robbers with AK-47s. And it’s a country where opportunities for women are limited by tradition and chauvinistic attitudes.

For Groenewald, who is anxious to apply for citizenship when she becomes eligible in 2004, the United States may be the land of opportunity. And for many Cape Cod businesses, summer is the season of opportunity.

Some must make enough money in the 10 to 12 weeks of summer to last through the year. Everything rides on June, July and August, when millions of visitors pour onto the Cape. If a business cannot ride that wave, it might just wipe out on the rocks.

Groenewald opened her cafe in early May, but she considers everything before this weekend a warm-up. This is her first sample of summer. Will the customers walk through her door? Will they like her food? If she gets her wish, if dozens of hungry townies and tourists order her chicken sosatie or bobotie, can she keep up with the demanding pace?

Groenewald is talkative and outgoing, but she considers herself a private person, and now her dream is playing out in public, just off one of Cape Cod’s busiest streets.

“Everything I’ve worked for is in here. I’ve got $300 left in my savings account,” she says sitting behind a table she painted herself to save money. “You don’t often in life get to live out your dream. This is what I’ve been dreaming for so long. Now I have to go out and make it happen.”

Starting a new business is always risky, but Groenewald has advantages that should help her succeed, says John Burns, economic development program director for the Lower Cape Cod Community Development Corp.

Groenewald has experience. She was trained as a chef in South Africa and she ran her own restaurant in Cape Town for two years. She also worked in Provincetown, at the Dancing Lobster restaurant, for the last three years, learning to understand local trends and tastes.

New businesses face a lot of obstacles and have little margin for error, Burns says. There are some forces they cannot control – the weather, for one – but entrepreneurs can take steps to improve their chances.

Groenewald has done her homework, taking several business courses through the
development corporation, including its Business Builders series for entrepreneurs. She developed a business plan and projected cash flow – both moves that help a business anticipate trouble and head it off, says Burns.

Burns also thinks Groenewald’s personality will help. She’s friendly, but she’s also determined.

“A lot of people give up after the first bump they hit,” Burns says. “She’s going to have her share of problems, but she’ll weather them because that’s who she is.”

Sanette’s Karoo Kafe is tiny, only about 650 square feet, including the kitchen. Most customers will take their meals to go. There are only 10 seats. On nice days, customers can gather on a deck that runs alongside the space.

Groenewald’s personality is all over, from the signs out front to the food on the menu. She painted the two signs herself, saving $1,500. A grilled cheese sandwich is on the menu because it’s Groenewald’s favorite food. The chicken and mushroom pie is “comfort food” in South Africa.

It’s also her mother’s recipe.

After signing a lease March 1, Groenewald spent 13-hour days cleaning her new space, hauling in equipment, painting bright colors over the dark green, maroon and black. She still wants to hang paintings on the wall. She drove a 14-foot U-Haul through Boston alone to pick up her kitchen equipment and found herself thanking God for making her brave as well as crazy.

Still, Groenewald is anxious because her cafe isn’t yet running like “a well-oiled” machine. She’s been around enough kitchens to recognize the required demands and rhythm, but she knows she’s not there yet.

She wonders if she will find enough employees. So far she’s relied on friends like Richard Adami, who helps in the kitchen, and Pat Medina, who does a little bit of everything from bookkeeping to working the counter. Groenewald knows she will need more help as the summer builds.

“This place is still a work in progress,” she says.

Cooking is Groenewald’s passion, “my painting,” she says, and she loves to watch the faces of her customers as they sample her food. She will need a lot of those customers, an average of 200 per day in July and August, fewer in the quiet months.

If she does that, she can pay her bills, including $19,000 a year in rent, which must be paid in full before the middle of July, and more than $400 per month in a loan payment (not including her credit cards). It should also allow her to draw $1,500 per month for herself. The restaurant will be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. this summer. She expects to work 15 hours a day. At that pace, she’ll earn about $3.50 per hour.

Groenewald thinks she has the right idea, the training, the experience, the right place, but she doesn’t know for sure. Her venture could be a huge success or a bust.

“I guess,” she says, “that’s part of what makes it so exciting.”