End of an era for The Galley

The new lessee, restaurateur, and former owner of the Harbour House Group, Michael Townsend, is considering a retractable roof for the outside area to protect patrons from the wind.

It is the end of an era for Fish Hoek’s beachfront restaurant, The Galley, as its lease was sold to the highest bidder at a public auction last Thursday.

Known for its Friday night dances and affordable prices and, in recent years, for controversy over its alleged monopoly of beachfront trading – the restaurant will close for good in May next year.

The Galley’s lease was among several properties and leases that the City put up for auction (“The Galley lease up for auction,” Echo November 9).

Bidding on the 1295m² stand opened at R50 000 before closing at R380 000 a month.

The lease is for 20 years with the option to renew for 10 more. The R380 000 excludes VAT and service charges but includes rates, according to auctioneer Stef Olivier.

Mr Olivier told bidders that the premises could only be used for tourist and restaurant-related purposes. No other uses would be allowed without prior consent from the City.

The auction, he noted, did not constitute the sale of the current restaurant business and excluded all moveable property.

Disappointment was clearly visible on the faces of the current leaseholders, Herbie and Mathea Eichel, as the camera panned past them during the live-streamed auction.

The couple took over the 20-year lease from the previous leaseholder under the old Fish Hoek Municipality, and the lease, as it stands today, was signed with the City of Cape Town in 1997.

That lease expired in 2016, and since then, it has been extended on a month-to-month basis (“The Galley lease up for auction,” Echo, November 9).

On Wednesday last week, the Eichels headed to the Western Cape High Court in an attempt to get an interdict to stop the City from auctioning their lease (“Galley owners head to court to stop auction,” Echo November 22).

However, the court did not rule in their favour and the auction went ahead as scheduled.

In a statement, Ms Eichel thanked her family and friends for their prayers and support.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t make it. The corporate company went too high – R380 000 per month, and you have to pay 3% of your turnover plus an increase of 6% per year. I could not. We could never have afforded that,” the statement read.

Social media groups exploded after the news broke with some expressing fear that the “cost of eating there now will be enormous” and others saying it was time for change and better service.

City spokesman Luthando Tyhalibongo told the Echo he could not disclose the identity of the new lessee as the City still had to receive the offers and present them to the delegated authority for consideration and a decision, but restaurateur and former owner of the Harbour House Group, Michael Townsend, confirmed that he was excited to have secured the lease of a “world-class site”.

He said he planned to upgrade the building while keeping its heritage status in mind and would meet with his architect soon.

He intends to apply for permission to have the clock tower raised so it is visible from afar – to become a beacon.

Mr Townsend will take occupation on Friday June 1 next year, and renovations, he said, were expected to take about three to four months from the date of occupation.

He said he planned to keep the formal side of the restaurant and add some “opulence” while the cafe side would serve food similar to his Sea Point restaurant, The Grand Pavilion.

He plans to improve the takeaway area and is considering a retractable roof for the outside area so “people are not blown away on windy days”.

He said he was “mindful” of the people who lived in Fish Hoek and would offer “decent value for money”.

He also plans to upgrade the children’s playground with a minder and armbands so “parents can enjoy a beer without having to watch their children”.

Mr Thyhalibongo said the new lease excluded the children’s play area, but the lessee would be responsible for maintaining it.

The City, he said, would retain responsibility for the maintenance of the public toilets and public parking area.

Mayoral committee member for economic growth James Vos said the Fish Hoek premises had received an overwhelmingly positive response from the market.

“I was pleased to see the restaurant’s existing tenant take part in the auction. The tenant will be given notice. However, they will be able to trade at the premises during the crucial holiday season when tourists flock to our shores,” he said.

A screengrab of auctioneer Stef Olivier sealing the deal at R380 000.
The lease for The Galley on Fish Hoek’s beachfront was sold on auction for R380 000 rental a month.