Galley petition cause for upset

The outside of the restaurant.

Some Fish Hoek residents have signed a petition calling for an end to what they claim is a beachfront restaurant’s monopoly.

The move has sparked fierce debate as well as questions about the landmark’s 20-year lease that expired in 2016.

Known by locals as The Galley, it trades as Bayside on the Beach and comprises the Fish Hoek Galley restaurant, the Beachcomber Bistro and Drifters Take-Away.

The owners, Herbie and Mathea Eichel, bought the restaurant, then called Wyro Restaurant Pty Ltd, in 1987 with their life’s savings and ran the business for five years before showing any profits (“Lease dispute at the Galley,” Echo, May 16, 2018).

The petition, started by Fish Hoek resident, Dalene West, on accuses The Galley of offering appalling service and stifling competition.

“If you cannot add value to a place, go,” it reads.

This led to heated exchanges on social media, with comments both for and against the restaurant.

One post read: “They need to change the owners. I will not go there as the food is awful and so is the service.”

But another said: “These folk do so much for the community, and the employees are ever attentive. Granted very busy at times so just chill and be patient. The food is excellent, and the value for money is fantastic. This (the petition) is so absurd. It (The Galley) is an institution for Fish Hoek and my vote is yeah they rock.”

But Ms West told the Echo the petition was not a call for The Galley to be shut down but rather an appeal for healthy competition.

She said she had been to the Galley at least 20 times in the past year and the service and food had been consistently bad, ranging from stale muffins to soggy croutons in her salad. She only returned because her family enjoyed their baskets of chips. She said she now only drank beverages at The Galley that were sealed in a bottle.

Following the outcry on social media, she said, she had written to Ms Eichel apologising for any upset she might have caused.

“I prefer peace, really, I do,” she said.

At the time of going to print the petition had 1095 signatures.

Ms Eichel confirmed Ms West had apologised but said the damage had been done.

She said she had become “immune” to social-media posts criticising the restaurant and had focussed on running the business to the best of her ability, but this time a line had been crossed.

“I’ve had calls from the Netherlands, England and Belgium, among others, asking if we are closing.”

The posts had created uncertainty among staff members and regular customers, she said.

Ms Eichel disagreed with the allegations in the petition and said it was not about standards or service but rather a personal grudge against her because of her race.

“It’s been ongoing for years, and I face harassment on a daily basis from locals. If it is not about the restaurant then it is about the charities we run or how we abuse our staff. There is always something they find fault with. We have been accused of being corrupt and bribing the council as well as ‘raping the people of Fish Hoek’ and everyone who reads this on social media believes it.”

At any given time, she said, there were 75 to 100 staff on duty, including waiters, runners and kitchen staff. And every meal was prepared fresh from ingredients sourced locally.

Ms Eichel said their lease was now month-to-month and they were waiting for the City to finalise its procedures.

“We are just another number to the City of Cape Town, and we have to wait while they follow the process.”

Monthly running costs, including rent, security, staff salaries and maintenance amounted to R1.2 million, she said.

According to Ms Eichel, since taking over the restaurant, they had spent millions to develop the parking area, beach and public toilets, and last year they spent R3.5 million renovating the kitchen and bathrooms.

Their lease, which was signed with the City of Cape Town in 1997, holds them responsible for the building’s maintenance.

City of Cape Town spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo said the current lease for the land, building and parking lot had expired and was now month-to-month, on the same terms, until a new lease could be signed.

The sale or leasing of a municipal property needs in-principal approval from council. But there must be public participation before this approval can be given. And the property’s value and the reason for its disposal, among other things, must be considered.

In the case of the Galley, according to Mr Tyhalibongo, an assessment was done by the City’s property management disposal branch to look at the benefit of continuing to use the property as a restaurant. Sub-council supported that report, but then mayoral committee member for a business and economic opportunities James Vos referred it back to the property management disposal branch to explore additional options other than just a restaurant.

Mr Tyhalibongo said a follow-up report would be resubmitted to council soon and the tender should be advertised within the following months.

Mayoral committee member for transport, Felicity Purchase said the current lease was based on a market- related rent at the time of signing and “escalated”.

The lease, she said, included the land, buildings and the parking area. Under the initial agreement with the Fish Hoek municipality the lessee was responsible for developing the parking lot.

The City said the Echo would need to apply through the Promotion of Access to Information Act to learn the rental specified in the lease.