The Blog

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

"Just keep your head down and work" -Sanette Groenewald

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

Author: JACK PERRY

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.”