What an amazing discovery sans is in the Artem Centre in Sea Point. It is a two-part shop, offering Speciality Home Goods decor items of fine quality, and an ‘ethical green grocer’, as it calls itself on its shop window. It is owned by Nicol and Jon-Paul Bolus, the owners of The Loading Bay in De Waterkant, and they own Pauline’s Stand Up Coffee Bar in the Artem Centre too. 

The only weakness of ‘sans’ is its name, it being derived from the Latin, meaning ‘without’, and I did not quite get why JP and Nicole had chosen this name. Stocking mainly organic foods in its Ethical Green Grocer section, it can refer to the outlet being without a middleman, receiving all produce direct from the source. It is also without plastic, one receiving one’s shopping in left-over delivery boxes, or in paper bags, at a charge. One can also buy cotton shopping bags, to reuse. The other interpretation is that its produce is without excessive charge, given that it is organic, and that it is sold in the very exclusive glitz and glamour shopping centre that once was a very tacky Adelphi Centre. 

I met with JP unannounced at The Loading Bay, and was grateful for his time, having his hands full with his three businesses. JP is Lebanese and speaks French, but an accent-free English. He has a background in IT. I asked him why he had opened sans in Sea Point. He explained that they were looking for a space for the concept they had, and the Artem Centre became available at a reasonable rental and with ample parking. JP is very much about community, and said that his philosophy is to adapt to their surrounding community, in meeting its needs, and in being customer driven. The Green Grocer Deli is spacious, different in what it stocks, and is ethical. He emphasised that they thrive on feedback. JP and Nicole have owned The Loading Bay for eleven years, and they have sourced organic produce for the restaurant over this time. Increasingly important to them and their customers became the search for produce that is food directly from the farmer, and evaluating how the produce is made in terms of how the animals are treated, for example. Their customers seek mindfulness and biodiversity in coming to The Loading Bay. The link between the three businesses is not visible, only known by word of mouth. 

For sans Speciality Home Goods they have sourced many Japanese items that have been produced with pride, and designed to suit the Japanese home with limited space, serving therefore a functional as well as design role. Their products are longer-lasting with a non-aging design. The interior has a neutral colour, giving a blank canvas in which to display their wares. JP had a strong hand in the design, and it is not over-designed. For their coffees JP has pursued suppliers emphasising quality rather than yield. The coffee bean farmer, roaster, and coffee bar all must work together to create the perfect cup of coffee, he said. They use Espresso Lab for their coffee roasting and supply at Espresso Lab, and Rosetta for Pauline’s. 

JP spoke positively about our country, and one senses that he would like to be a facilitator for its change, preserving what makes it special. And hence his emphasis on working with the community, rather than just taking from it. 

The sans Speciality Home Goods decor department uses minimalistic display to highlight its products, much of it sourced from Japan, including bamboo as well as ceramic serving bowls, plates, beautiful imported cutlery, kitchen utensils (I bought the sweetest tiny Japanese whisk) , cloths and throws, bed linen, books (I bought Michael Pollan’s ‘Cooked’), writing materials, journals, as well as a range of skin care products. 

On my second visit I interacted with Nicol, not realising that she is the co-owner at that stage, dressed in the staff outfit, and she came across as a manager. Her defensiveness about some of my feedback from my visit a few days before, about the disinterested cashier and the extremely off bananas should have identified her close links to the business. She did identify her role at the end of my visit, and was very defensive of her staff member on the floor, when I fed back to her my experience with him. On my first visit I reconnected with a charming set of sisters, whom I had first met at Purr clothing, who assisted on the Green Grocer side. One of the two sisters also was on duty at The Loading Bay, so it is clear that staff is circulated between the different properties. 

My main focus of this article is the Ethical Green Grocer side, and the impressive selection and collection of organic, biodynamic, and generally ethical produce, unseen anywhere else in Cape Town. I walked the shop, and documented what I saw, shopping alongside this too:

  •   As one enters the shop from inside the Centre (the Green Grocer section has its own entrance, but can also be entered from the Home Decor section) hang shopper bags, and stand compost bins
  • Environmentally friendly toilet paper 
  • Biodegradable and biodynamic household cleaning products
  • Mineral water on glass bottles 
  • Fire lighters
  • Kombucha
  • imported and local fruit and vegetable juices 
  • Coconut, almond, and soy milks 
  • Edible flowers 
  • Herbs, multi packs and separate 
  • Blueberries and gooseberries
  • Tofu
  • Kimchi
  • Grain-free crackers, brown rice crisps, and bio rice snacks.
  • Cold meats/Italian style charcuterie items pre-packed
  • Farmer Angus pork pâté, pork lard, steak, mince, chicken, boerewors, beef bone broth, bacon, Braai packs, eggs, pork broth, and biltong.
  • Raw pets milk, Kefir, Buttermilk, milk, cream, yoghurts, ghee, unsalted butter
  • Cheeses from a range of suppliers, including Dalewood, Klein River, Langbaken, Cremelat, La Petite France, and De Pekelaar, each described as being made from raw milk or pasteurised milk. On the Sunday that I visited the store there were two cheeses on display, which one could taste, a Boerenkaas aged for 12 months and a Fresh Asiago aged for two to three months. The tasting was with the Mysthill Farm unsalted butter and sourdough bread, the latter running out to the disappointment of other customers. I ordered two slices of the Fresh Asiago, described as being good for making sandwiches, but expensive at R24 for two slivers (R495 per kg !) that had been hand cut for me. The tasting does not identify the per kilogram prices of the cheeses one tastes. 
  • Natural organic wines from Gabriëlskloof, Usana, Katvis, Flotsam & Jetsam, Radford Dale, FRAM, Alphabetical, Heinwee, Pella, Lowerland, Crystallum, City on a Hill, and Knapsekêrel
  • Geometric, Pienaar & Sons, and Hope on Hopkins gins 
  • Italian pasta, and pasta made from chick peas and red lentils, rice penne. On my first visit, on a Tuesday, one of the sisters did a pasta making demonstration, the pasta having a beautiful yellow colour, from the quality of the eggs used. One can buy freshly made pasta every Tuesday 
  • Bio Wheat Stoneground Cake flour, self-raising flour, buckwheat
  • Apricot, kumquat and passion fruit, strawberry, and orange and vanilla jams; rhubarb, plum and onion preserves
  • Granola, oats, oat bran, red lentils, adzuki beans, polenta, couscous, jasmine rice, brown rice, basmati rice, chickpeas, and amaranth 
  • Himalayan crystal Salt, Kala Namak Black Salt
  • Poppy, pumpkin, black sesame, golden flax seeds; red split lentils, red quinoa
  • Rozendal botanic vinegar and hibiscus vinegar; Vin-tage red and white wine vinegar, pomegranate vinegar, raspberry vinegar
  • Italian olive oils, local olive oils, Funki Funghi truffle oil
  • Cashew nuts, pecan nuts, almonds, dried figs, raisins, dried apricots, dried mango, and dates.
  • Olives in jars
  • Honey-based products, including hand and body lotions, candles, and creams
  • Oganic toothpastes and toothbrushes 
  • Lady Bonin’s Teas, Matcha tea, Olive leaf teas, Whittard English Breakfast tea, Super Latte powered botanicals in Matcha, Beetroot, and Turmeric
  • Corn chips, rice cakes, falafel, Goji berries
  • Agave syrup, Spirulina hemp powder, raw chocolate,
  • Curry leaves, garlic, lime leaves, ginger
  • Sweet potatoes, onions, pumpkin, cabbage, carrots, button mushrooms, beetroot, turnips, fennel, tomatoes, leeks, cauliflower, kale, pokchoi, tatsoi, Swiss chard, parsley, spring onions, and peppers.
  • pineapples, lemons, oranges.
  • A selection of breads 

While the sans home decor section has very kind and gentle staff, I found the staff at the sans Green Grocer side to not match the produce or ethos of the outlet, a cashier looking so disinterested that she is not likely to maintain her tenure at the shop, and a so-called manager Jonathan being so full of ego and arrogance that it made shopping there unpleasant. Another problem I had was that I had to pay separately for the items selected in the home decor section and for the Green Grocer section. They are working on integrating the payment of the two sections. I personally missed a coffee section in the store, as I bumped into a friend immediately on entering the home wear shop on my first visit, and so a catch-up coffee would have been great. Pauline’s is at the far end of the building, which means one has to exit the building and walk to the far end of it in noisy Sea Point, potentially losing their coffee business to Coco Safar as it dominates the entrance to the Centre. 

Pauline’s Stand Up Coffee Bar is named after JP’s mother, and is a long narrow space just big enough for a counter with coffee machines, and a display of baked treats, at which one can stand to drink one’s coffee. Outside at the entrance a tree forms the centrepoint of a seating area with cushions, if one wants to drink the coffee there. Nosh recognised me from his previous employment as the barista at Dear Me and at The Loading Bay, and was most informative. On the counter lay three cards with different roasting styles and origins of the coffee beans, which one can choose from, two of the three per day being available. I have not seen information about the origin of my coffees in the past, so this is commendable. The coffee menu is restricted to long black, flat white, batch brew, latte, and iced coffee, but Nosh had a dry cappuccino made for me. The sweet treats are on the more expensive side, but are sugar-free, gluten-free, and otherwise more healthy than the standard fare one is offered in coffee shops. 

I salute JP for his visionary thinking, and for the emphasis on making the planet a better space for all, and on emphasising organic, biodynamic compostable produce in the Ethical Green Grocer section. I bought a green juice in a glass bottle, and Nicol encouraged me to return it, against a refund. Each shelf had informative details about the products. 

sans, Artem Centre, 277 Main Road, Sea Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 425-6325 www.sanscommunity.com Instagram:@sanscommunity

sans Monday – Friday 10h00 – 19h00  Saturday 9h30 – 16h00  Sunday 10h00 – 14h00.

Pauline’s Stand Up Coffee Bar Monday – Friday 7h00 – 16h00, Saturday 8h00 – 16h00, Sunday 8h00 – 14h00. 

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein