REFILLING AT NATURE’S EARTH SHED
WORDS AND IMAGES: SHIRLEY LE GUERN
If you’re heading along the Old National Road near Southbroom, be on the lookout for The Earth Shed, a striking white ‘trading post’ and restaurant with its signature arches that is likely to become something of a landmark, if it hasn’t already.
“It has become like a family here rather than just a shop. The local people know us, our secret hideaway space. You could miss us if you drive past – but we also often see people go past and then make a U-turn and drive back,” says owner Chanté Truter, who opened The Earth Shed together with her partner Andrew Brittz and his brother Michael Brittz in 2020.
The official description of The Earth Shed is that it is a sustainable emporium, a boutique and refillery as well as a restaurant that focuses on healthy fare and vegan options. Folks can bring along their own jars and top up with household cleaners or refill their spice jars, buy locally grown veggies or purchase some of Chanté’s pottery.
Chanté explains that the Earth Shed mirrors the lifestyle of the partners. “We try and be as sustainable as possible. We have been on a plant based diet for about five or six years, so it is more like a lifestyle store for us. We’ve been trying to get the space to represent a healthier outlook on life – to
reduce the use of packaging and the consumption of sugar and reflect a different outlook in terms of diet.”
She says that The Earth Shed is, first and foremost, focused on meeting the local community’s needs with visits from tourists or those who are regular visitors to the area because they own holiday homes there an added bonus.
“The Earth Shed is based on community and we try and reach out and find out what people are wanting and then try and source it for them. A lot the restaurants here are seasonal, so we try and cater specifically for our local people. Basically, this is a community space with a sustainable outlook on shopping,” she says.
In addition to selling her own pottery, Chanté also offers visitors an opportunity to get creative and to buy and paint ceramics which she then fires and keeps for collection. Those who are serious about learning more can sign up for beginner and intermediate workshops which teach everything from hand building techniques (coiling, pinching and slab rolling) to various ways of decorating and glazing as well as wheel work and more advanced decorating.
THE STORY BEHIND THE EARTH SHED
The building – originally named The Trading Post – is owned by two local farmers who opened it as a farm stall many years ago. A café was eventually added. However, by the time that Chanté and Andrew found it, it was in need of a new approach and a new look.
Today, it is a beautiful two level building. The boutique and pottery studio occupy the ground level and the peaceful and trendy restaurant sits up top looking out towards the sea.
Chanté explains how, after deciding to open a pottery studio on the lower South Coast, she, partner Andrew Brittz and his brother Michael Brittz arrived in the midst of lockdown looking for a place to put down roots.
The move to the South Coast at the most difficult of times – in the middle of a pandemic – was a fairly radical decision. While Andrew hailed from the South Coast, he had not been back since high school. She had never been there.
What they were looking for was a place where they could realise their vision. In Cape Town, where they were living at the time, everything had been done, she explains.
“It’s very hard to get into the market there. There’s a good number of vegan restaurants, pottery studios and art spaces. There’s an abundance in Cape Town, whereas the Coast needs community, something new to push restaurants to use vegan ingredients. There was not much here. … We could see that it was very hard to find plant based, vegan or sustainable products here or to refill groceries. That’s easy in Cape Town. You can go to your local store and there’s a little boutique space where you can refill your containers or glass bottles. So, just by creating a space to do something we needed ourselves, we reached out to a lot of those in our area who have been craving out for something like this.”
During 2020, the trio looked at more spaces than they care to remember but nothing seemed quite right.
When they found what is now The Earth Shed, it was an instant fit, although a little larger than they had anticipated.
“But we bit the bullet and took the risk. This was supposed to be a really tiny store but the spaces we were looking at weren’t ideal. Power stoppages were also a problem for the pottery, so we had to find something that was almost the perfect fit for two totally different things. When we walked in, we knew immediately that it was meant for
us, for the Earth Shed – we even had it named the Earth Shed beforehand. This was the perfect building, space and area. It couldn’t have been better timing.”
In September 2020, they were ready to occupy the building and just hoped that lockdown restrictions would ease in time for their opening. They did.
At roughly the same time, they decided to open a restaurant. This came on stream in November 2020.
Although both Chanté and Andrew had worked as waitrons before, neither had actually owned a restaurant. “We’ve had some big things happening and troubles that we’ve never experienced before. We had never had the true feeling of what it is to own a restaurant. It has been quite an adventure,” she admits.
THE POTTER BEHIND THE BUSINESS
Chanté’s own story is interesting with the pottery side of her business taking shape well before the boutique or the restaurant.
She is an industrial designer by trade and built her career working for large corporates and chain stores within the crockery and cutlery space.
But she soon realized that these same large companies were souring more and more of their products from the likes of China rather than supporting the many local companies who supplied the same thing at marginally higher prices.
“The locals aren’t getting supported by big corporates even though this could really boost the economy. I tried to do my best and learn about the pottery side while I was working. I reached out to a lot of small manufacturers who were taking on projects and started designing freelance,” she says.
Chanté went on to learn how to do pottery herself, buying a wheel from a retired artist and setting up in the kitchen of her Cape Town home. “I really got to grips with what it takes to manufacture. I didn’t have much space – but I worked at throwing on a wheel and kept practicing.”
Towards the end of 2019, she decided to quit her job and, in January 2020, she opened her first studio in Paarden Island. She started designing for restaurants and supplying dinnerware to fine dining establishments.
Then lockdown happened.
This left her with a tough financial decision. With many restaurants closing during hard lockdown and the survivors struggling to continue afterwards because of alcohol bans and curfews, owners stopped buying crockery. It was no longer feasible for her to continue.
“So, I decided to try and start a little boutique and sell my pottery through that. The boutique would be based on a bit more of a hands-on craft in South Africa with everything fully locally made. I started sourcing products that were proudly South African, mostly in Cape Town,” she recalls.
Throughout this period, when small local companies were also struggling, she was able to build strong relationships and stock her boutique cost effectively. These connections have held fast for nearly three years and she says that she does her utmost to try and promote all of the small companies that still supply The Earth Shed.
She was also able to reach out to South Coast companies. Many growers had been forced to stop selling to existing customers during Covid and were looking for an outlet. “So we
got some really great contacts through lockdown and helped each other,” she points out.
Chanté admits that setting up The Earth Shed wasn’t easy.
“It was a huge financial and business risk, but we saw the gap in the market where no-one was really catering for health and sustainability. We took a chance and it seems to have worked out. We’ve had some really tough times since the opening – the lockdowns and now this rain – but we seem to recover every time.”
Would they do it again? “It took a lot of work but we enjoyed it. It was special and crazy and wild but definitely it was worth opening. We are seeing so many people benefitting in this area including other businesses. It’s hard to explain. But we don’t regret doing this. Whatever happens, we’ll make it work.”