Lease dispute at Galley

The Galley Restaurant as seen from the beach.

The renewal of the lease for the Galley Restaurant has long been a contentious issue in the valley and the topic has been widely discussed on social media since the expiration of the 20-year lease in 2016.

Last month the City of Cape Town published a notice for public participation for the proposed closure and lease of its immovable property, the Galley Restaurant situated on portions of Erf 16033 and 10699 which sparked hefty debates on community Facebook groups, with some residents calling for the Galley to remain as is and others calling for change.

The beachfront restaurant which has become a landmark in Fish Hoek has been around for decades. The owners, Herbie and Mathea Eichel bought the restaurant, then called Wyro Restaurant Pty Ltd, in 1984 and inherited the 20-year lease with the Municipality of Fish Hoek, divided into two 10-year periods – 1984-1994 and 1994-2004 – from the previous owners with the Municipality of Fish Hoek. The lease as it stands today was signed with the City of Cape Town in 1997.

Since the Eichels took ownership of the restaurant, they have invested millions to develop the parking area, beach and public toilets and spent R1.5 million last year renovating the restaurant. This was done in accordance with the lease agreement which stipulates that they are responsible for maintenance of the building.

The couple poured their life savings into the development and built a large part of the building, including the Bistro, with their own money.

However, some residents feel the Eichels’ time is up and it is time for a change. Several Facebook community group called on residents to send their comments and suggestions to the City before the closing date for public comment on Tuesday May 8.

The posts argued that the restaurant’s exclusivity to trade was unacceptable and that the beachfront needed further development.

Other concerns raised were that the picnic area in front of the restaurant was not included in the lease and could not be used by the restaurant for income, also that the restaurant had no right to prevent tour buses, not bring patrons to the restaurant, from parking in the parking lot, paying a reduced monthly rent and most recently, the erection of a Khoi hut at the entrance to the picnic area.

Addressing these allegations, Mr Eichel said they had worked hard to make a success of the business and when signing the lease in 1997, they never negotiated or requested
to trade exclusively on the beachfront.

This was on condition of the City as there have been many calls for other businesses to trade on the beach and in the past, a call to have smaller stalls on the beachfront, which the City allowed, ended in disaster due to the strong south easter which blew the structures away.

He confirmed that the picnic area situated in front of the restaurant was not included in their lease but said it was “attached” to the lease after the City asked them to maintain the area. It was only then that he planted the large palm trees, obtained from a golf course in Paarl and put the artificial turf down along with the umbrellas.

In the early days of business when beach constables still patrolled the beach, no buses were allowed at the beachfront and Hilton Ross was the first bus to be allowed to park at the beachfront for a fee of R30 under strict supervision of the beach constable.

Mr Eichel said as word of this spread, it resulted in more tourists wanting to visit the restaurant and an increase in the number of buses.

He said during peak season and on busy days, the number of buses must be managed carefully to prevent buses blocking the exit at the railway line which is a very dangerous crossing.

“We can’t tell tourists where to go,” Ms Eichel said, adding that the Galley was seen as a tourist destination and had “put Fish Hoek on the map”.

Mr Eichel added that the monthly rent paid by the restaurant was in line with the lease agreement stipulated by the City and while it was not market-related, other monthly costs such as maintenance of the building, security and interest on their investment contributed to the rent, thereby making it market-rela-

The hut which has caused a buzz on social media and has been compared to a giant pineapple, will serve as an information centre.

Ms Eichel who is of Khoi descent said the hut will be used to educate visitors on Khoi heritage and promote the history of Fish Hoek.

“Most people don’t know anything about Khoi heritage,” she said.

Mayco member for assets and facilities management, Stuart Diamond, said there would be a competitive tender process and until such time, the current lease is being extended on a month-to-month basis while the necessary statutory processes are being followed to implement a new lease transaction.

He added that there was no renewal option for the current lease agreement and the proposed new lease would be established based on the prevailing market conditions, required statutory approvals and will not extend beyond the existing footprint

“The City of Cape Town has the responsibility to see that the utilisation of assets drives economic growth and sustainable development,” he said.

Fish Hoek resident, Alison Darby said the Khoisan hut, while beautifully crafted, obstructs a huge portion of the beach vista and due to being positioned so close to the take-away zone and walkway it could cause pedestrian bottlenecks. But most importantly, she said, it blocks parents from being able to see their
children in the adjacent play

“Applications and planning permission, I understand, were not applied for timeously, although a building inspector apparently visited the site on Thursday May 10 in the wake of many complaints on Facebook,” she said.

“Purporting to be a Tourist Information Centre, why not have a moveable unit in the car park? As for bringing Khoisan heritage to the beach, historical information boards such as the ones between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay would surely suffice. As a local I wish to see due processes and transparency upheld. This hut is now adding more consternation to the already hotly debated issues surrounding the Galley lease.”

Fish Hoek resident, Ben Brooks, a relative newcomer to the valley felt the Galley was an integral part of the beach and contributed to the unique charm of Fish Hoek. He also believed they provided a safe and secure environment as they work with local security companies to safeguard the area. He added that the Eichels supported a number of initiatives and activities in the valley.

Another Fish Hoek resident and chairman of the Recyclers Club for retired cyclists, Simon Brooke, said the Galley had for many years hosted the group of 100 cyclists every Thursday for breakfast after cycling around the peninsula. In addition, he said, the Eichels allowed them to use a room on the premises for the regular after-cycling talks where prominent speakers addressed the group. He said the Galley catered for the needs of the community and attracted visitors to Fish Hoek.

The City’s Property Management Department confirmed that no permission had been granted for the erection
of the hut and said the City
would investigate the matter further.