Tag Archives: Jochen Buechel

Bouillabaisse restaurant closure a lesson in restaurant management

Within the past two weeks restaurant couple Camil and Ingrid Haas have closed down their well-known Bouillabaisse restaurant on the main road of Franschhoek, and have left Camil’s, their restaurant in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel carrying Camil’s name.  While this is sad news for Camil’s followers, it is an useful case study of restaurant management.

Background: Ten years ago Camil and Ingrid came to South Africa (they have just celebrated this anniversary), and settled in the gourmet village of Franschhoek.   They set up a guest house in an old mission station on Akademie Street, and called it Klein Oliphantshoek, the latter part of the name once having been the name of the village.   Camil set up a kitchen in the guest house, and it became renowned for its excellent tasting menus, long before such had become fashionable.  Ingrid would pair and pour the wines, mainly from Franschhoek, and they had a perfect highly regarded business.

Lessons in restaurant management

1.  Do not over-extend yourself/Small is Beautiful

When the Haas’ opened Bouillabaisse on the main road about four years ago, it was meant to be a day-time Oyster and Champagne Bar, for the day-trippers coming to Franschhoek, and at night (mainly over weekends) Camil would be in the Klein Oliphantshoek kitchen.   Bouillabaisse took off, and it was decided to do dinners as well.   A great concept, but Camil had the misfortune that a number of his new chefs at Bouillabaisse walked out in the opening month (this is a Franschhoek affliction all players in the hospitality industry have to deal with in the village), it was rumoured at the time.   This meant that he had to spread himself thin, being at two locations at the same time.  End result: the dinners at Klein Oliphantshoek were closed down, and the guest house was sold about a year later.

2.   Be nice to patrons

The stress of the new Bouillabaisse venture seemed to have gotten to Ingrid Haas in particular, and she was very prescriptive to the locals and tourists that supported the tiny restaurant – one could not combine or mix and match between dishes off their tapas-style menu, one could not book outside tables, and the rules seemed quite heavy, as was her attitude.  In early days, on a Valentine’s Day, when we sat at a (seemingly) unreserved table outside – that was the rule – we were rudely sent away, saying the table was booked, without it having a Reserved sign on it.  I stayed away for a few months after that, but started going back, and went to the Green Point restaurants regularly thereafter.  I have progressed to hugs and kisses now!

3.  Choose a pronounceable name

Bouillabaisse is a fun name, and reflects Camil’s love for fish cooking.  But, for locals, and guest house staff having to make bookings for guests for dinner, it was a nightmare, meaning that staff chose not to mention that restaurant as one of the options to guests, because they could not pronounce its name.

4.  Be a big fish in a small pond

We are all tempted, present company included, to expand the business.   Not having learnt from the first problems in having two restaurants, the Haas couple opened up a Bouillabaisse in The Rockwell building in Green Point, a beautifully appointed restaurant with fishy decor, in January 2009.  Not satisfied with one restaurant only, they opened a restaurant for Ingrid, called Crepe Suzette, in a French Cafe style, next door to Bouillabaisse.   It was beautiful, unique, and affordable.  Franschhoek may have 25 restaurants, but Cape Town has hundreds, if not more.  It was a whole new ballpark to start operating in a city in which the Haas couple was reasonably unknown. (Matthew Gordon, by contrast, keeps opening new restaurants in Franschhoek, having interests in four establishments already, a different, very focused, approach to location choice).

5.   Location, location, location

The Rockwell is set off Somerset Road, opposite the new Cape Quarter as the crow flies, but the building has no branding on the outside, so it is not known nor visible to Capetonians.  The brainchild of the infamous Conrad Gallagher, the ground floor of The Rockwell was conceptualised by him as an indoor epicurean market, operating 7 days a week, of purveyors of organic foods and wines, which was an outstanding concept.  Bouillabaisse, Crepe Suzette and two other restaurants were to be part of the concept.  Gallagher ran away from Cape Town under a cloud of debt, no other food shop or restaurant opened, two decor shops did, but no one could see Bouillabaisse and Crepe Suzette hidden in The Rockwell.   At that time Somerset Road in Green Point was a nightmare area to be avoided, given the building work happening at the Cape Quarter.   The bite of the recession was worse than anyone had expected, and this affected business too.

6.   Branding is key

Suddenly it was announced last September that Bouillabaisse and Crepe Suzette had closed down in The Rockwell, and were re-opening elsewhere.  The new location was kept secret until two months later, when they opened in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel on Main Road in Green Point, but…… as a newly named Camil’s and Ci Casa.  This meant they had to start branding all over again.   From a brand perspective, throwing away a respected brand name Bouillabaisse, while still operating with this brand name in Franschhoek, was not understandable.  Further, Camil Haas is not well-known as a chef in Cape Town, and opening under his own name was a big risk.   Camil’s menu was very different to that of Bouillabaisse, described in a review on this blog as not conventional.   The new location worked better, in that guests staying in the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, as well as locals, were better able to see and support the new restaurants.  The decor of Camil’s was not to the liking of everyone.  Establishing three new brands, as well as the move of a known Franschhoek brand to Cape Town in the space of a year, would have challenged even the most experienced marketing expert. (In a desperate attempt to attract attention to Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, the restaurant exterior was recently painted in a most shrill purple, quite unbefitting of the quality of the restaurant).

7.  Be careful about who you get into bed with!

I was surprised when I heard that the Haas couple had gone into a partnership with Jochen Buechel, previous owner of the Place on the Bay in Camps Bay and a property developer, not that I had heard anything untoward about him (although a Google search indicated a Noseweekexpose about a controversial development in Sea Point in 2006), but because I could not see the personalities jelling.   The Buechels had been regular clients of Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, and are well connected in Cape Town, and the Camil’s opening function in November, co-ordinated by their PRO Dagmar Schumacher, saw dignitaries such as Helen Zille attend (my invitation, with those for other food writers, had been sent, but had got lost in the post, we were told!).   After writing the review after a visit soon after the opening of Camil’s, during which Ingrid had told me that she and Camil were running the operational side of the restaurant, and that the Buechels were doing the marketing, I received a call from Jochen Buechel, asking me to keep his involvement in the restaurant low key.  I did not alter my review.

“Hearing between the lines”, if there is such an expression, it would appear that the relationship between the Haas couple and the Buechels has broken down, and this may have led to Camil Haas’ departure from his restaurant.  The staff remain, and Buechel now is the full owner of the restaurant (or maybe was that anyway?).  Camil and Ingrid Haas are said to have returned to Franschhoek.

POSTSCRIPT 31/5:  Whilst having a cappuccino at Camil’s today, Jochen Buechel asked to speak to me on the phone, to let me know that the Sea Point development referred to in Noseweek is one of the most successful developments in Sea Point.   He was very frank in answering my questions about the reasons for the breakdown, and it appears that Camil was inflexible about his menu items – Camil liked the “differentness” of his menu items, while Buechel wanted a menu that would make patrons come to the restaurant once or twice a week, and not once or twice a month, as was the case.   Buechel regards Camil highly, and said that he is “a fantastic pianist but not able to conduct the orchestra”.    He also indicated that whatever money Bouillabaisse was making in Franschhoek in summer would be lost covering expenses in winter, probably a common curse of the hospitality industry.   Camil’s menu will change tomorrow, being simplified by the General Manager and Head Chef Werner, who has been at Bouillabaisse and Camil’s in Cape Town since the beginning.  It is likely that the creperie Ci Casa will be incorporated into the Camil’s menu, and that the Ci Casa restaurant name will be dropped.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

Restaurant Review: Camil’s out of the ordinary!

When one experiences a new restaurant, one likes to have a handle on it, to define the restaurant, to place it in a box.  Camil’s Restaurant defies definition and categorization, its menu being unique, and is likely to evolve over time.

Camil and Ingrid Haas started Bouillabaisse in Franschhoek, after owning Klein Oliphantshoek guest house for a number of years and cooking for their guests.  They sold the guest house, concentrated on Bouillabaisse, and at the beginning of this year bravely opened Bouillabaisse in the Rockwell Centre in De Waterkant in Cape Town, as well as the creperie Crepe Suzette.  They were major tenants in a centre that was designated to become the Epicurean Gourmet Emporium, under the guidance of Conrad Gallagher, a great concept in that various small shops would surround the restaurants, all selling organic products.  Nothing materialised when Gallagher left the country under a cloud of debt shortly after the restaurants opened.    After nine months the Haas’ closed shop and announced that they would re-open at a new location.   Quickly word spread that the new location would be the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel on Main Road in Green Point, diagonally opposite the Cape Town Stadium.    

The restaurant opened last week, and a surprise was that the Haas couple have decided to start from scratch, bravely throwing away their two Rockwell brands, and renaming it Camil’s Restaurant.   Bouillabaisse Franschhoek remains as it is.   New too is that Camil and Ingrid have entered into a partnership with Jochen Buechel, who used to own the Place on the Bay in Camps Bay.  The Haas’ will run the operational side of the restaurant, while the Buechels will look after the marketing.

The first impression on arrival was not a positive one, in that parking is difficult to find on Main Road.   Outside the hotel most of the parking was blocked off with traffic cones, and an attempt to park in the garage underneath the hotel was rudely and abruptly denied, despite a previous dinner at 1800 giving one access to this parking garage.   It was a wet and rainy evening, and the person at the parking entrance waved his arms and pointed to the opposite side of the road for parking.  On summer days parking availability, or lack off, could be a major problem for the restaurant.   

Each of the two restaurants in the Cape Royale (1800, Camil’s) has its own entrance off the street, and it was hard to see how to get into Camil’s.  Three glass doors give access to the restaurant, but the main entrance door is the middle one, at the bar.  It could leave the clients stranded outside if one does not have a staff member at the door, as the bar counter blocks the staff’s ability to see someone arriving.  

The interior was a surprise, if one is expecting a Bouillabaisse.   The restaurant space has been divided into two sections, the smaller section recognisably containing the lovely Crepe Suzette furniture, giving it a relaxed and welcoming feel.   The larger area only has one recognisable feature – the ‘fishy’ light fittings from Bouillabaisse.   The space is open and uncluttered, as opposed to its neighbours 1800, and has a light peppermint colour on the walls.  All tables have brown tablecloths, and square tables have a white sheet of paper on the tablecloths, over which a red or a brown cloth is placed.   All benches against one wall are covered in a brown fabric, and an attractive green and brown striped fabric covers the wall, to dampen the echo in the space.  The same colours are replicated in the cushions on the benches.   Two strong red columns are visible in the middle of the restaurant.   The kitchen is open and visible, but one cannot sit at the food preparation area as one can/could at Bouillabaisse.   One can hear chef Camil instruct and guide his staff, some new, some old.

One receives two menus – one lists all the cocktails and 13 wines-by-the-glass : the Graham Beck Brut costs R 35, the Ordine Merlot R 45, Brampton Shiraz R 27, and R 45 for the Neil Ellis Elgin Sauvignon Blanc and the Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir.     Overgaauw is the house wine, costing R 25 for a 200 ml caraffe of white and R 29 for the red wine.

The creperie section is called ‘Crepes and Things’, and the menu lists sweet crepes ranging in price from R 35 for a cinnamon to R 65 for a Swiss dark chocolate and apricot crepe.   The Crepe Suzette is still on the menu, at R 62.   Only three savoury crepes are served, ranging in price from R 48 – R 68.   Pancakes are also offered, and a crispy duck salad will be tried on a next visit.

The second menu welcomes one to Camil’s Kitchen, and one senses branding confusion – is the name Camil’s (on the bill), Camil’s Restaurant (on the website) or Camil’s Kitchen (on the menu)?   The menu states that “good food and wine should not cost the world”, and therefore they have introduced “prix d’ami”, the menu says, defined as a “mix of flavours from around the globe, priced for friends”.   The opening hours are stated as being from 12h00 – 16h00 for lunch, and from 18h30 – 22h00 for dinner.   The creperie is open from 11h00 – 23h00.   Interestingly, the exchange rate is listed for the Rand against the Dollar and the Euro, but surprisingly not for the Pound.   A service charge of 10 % is added automatically, the menu says, for tables of 10 or more, and corkage of R50 per bottle is charged.  Children under 10 are not welcome, unless they are restaurant-trained!  These house rules precede the menu, and should prevent any problems.                

The second menu has a full wine list, but is restricted to about two or three wines per variety.   The Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc costs R 160, Brampton Shiraz R 97, and the Mont Rochelle Shiraz R 158.   The food follows the wine listing, and refers to a chef’s menu, a type of surprise menu, subject to one’s dietary restrictions, at R 295 for 3 courses, R 350 for 4 courses and R 395 for 5 courses.   Twelve unique oyster starters are offered, each with a catchy name, e.g. Beauty and the Beast (citrus and basil), China Town Fireworks, etc.   Five starters include Zucchinni carpaccio at R 42 and a prawn burger at R 59.   Seven unique salads are served, ranging in price from R 48 (tatsoi salad) – R 89 (wonton layers and scallops).  Two soups are offered: Mulligatawny (R 28) and Red paprika and goat’s cheese crumbs (R 35).

Main courses are divided into eight “Medium Mains”, costing R 52 for quail’s legs to R 97 for seared scallops, and “Serious Mains”, ranging from R 65 for a lamb skewer to R 125 for a halibut with foie gras.   An oven-roasted rib of veal can be shared between two persons, at R 250.

An amouse bouche was brought to the table, together with tasty crispy rolls, cleverly presented in a basket with Southern Right olive oil, Camil’s branded balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.   The crayfish tail sandwich was meant to be served with sourdough bread, which was not in stock yet, so Camil asked permission to substitute the bread with rice, which was lightly curried and included chopped nuts, served with a garlic mayonnaise and a small salad of green leaves and grapefruit – an unusual combination that worked wonderfully, and it defines Camil’s – it is Camil’s choice, with a touch of something different and unique.   Camil says he purposely cut himself off from the previous Bouillabaisse by not putting any of its dishes on the Camil’s menu.

Camil’s needs to focus on its brand name and stick with one name, it needs to address its parking problem (a meeting with the new Cape Royale GM is imminent), and it needs to build brand awareness for Camil Haas, an introverted chef well-known in Franschhoek but not in Cape Town, and for Camil’s.   The website is thin on information, only providing the address and contact details.

The cost of the glass of Graham Beck Brut, the crayfish tail sandwich and a capuccino was R 175.   Camil’s is located at the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel, 47 Main Road, Green Point. Tel 021 433 1227. www.camils.co.za

POSTSCRIPT 31/5: Camil Haas, chef and co-owner of Camil’s, left the restaurant three weeks ago.  Read the story here.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com.