A Day in the Life of a Community Grocer

Community Grocer

The young and charming Omeros Demetriou has owned up to his Cypriot family’s legacy of entrepreneurship. The owner of Cape Town’s Olive Branch Deli has transformed his passion and self-proclaimed olive obsession into his livelihood. With a shirt, bowtie, and carefully groomed beard, he invites anyone with a love for olives and gourmet Mediterranean cuisine to visit his store. The deli, reminiscent of a 1950s community grocery store, displays careful selections of market vendors’ seasonal artisan products. Ome wants these vendours to grow their brands and share their delicious goods with people on a daily basis. The deli is filled with excellent quality olives, olive oils, feta cheese, home-made hummus and tsatsiki (courtesy of Ome’s mom), honey, and many more delicious, hand-picked products. EduConnect is excited to hear about the young businessman’s daily affairs and how his Cape Town olive gem is taking off.

  • Tell us about your typical working day at the Olive Branch Deli?
Time of Day Activity Comments
07:30h wake up I stay quite close to work, so I don’t have to wake up too early
07:45h Prep for work starts at home – i.e. combing my beard and dressing up in a bowtie

 

I also clean some things from the previous day that I took home with me.

I like my appearance to match the feel of the shop – a general store in the 1950s
08:30h Get to work – switch on and pack fridges, prep coffee machine, etc.

Shop opens at 10am

I also do admin, like taking in orders, or getting updates from vendors
09:00h Trade for rest of the day Rush hour is from 4-7pm
12:00h Maybe grab something to eat We don’t have a set lunch time – we tend to pick here and there throughout the whole day
18:45h Close the shop – switch off machines, clean up, prep for next day We call this “turn down”
19:00h Go home and relax for rest of the evening On weekends I try to go out as much as possible and visit different areas
  • What sparked your love for olive products?

I ended up doing the natural thing when it comes to being part of a family of entrepreneurs, which is to fall into the family business.

I worked in my father’s jewellery business Savvas & Son Watch Services for quite some time. Being Greek, my father would do some things that weren’t very conventional – for example, selling certain Greek foods in his jewelry store. One of the things he sold was olives.

One day he asked me to write up something about an olive recipe that had been passed down from our family in Cyprus. During that time, I started reading up on olives, including their health benefits. I did more and more research, and in a way I became a little bit obsessed about olives. I started to research and write more about it, and before I knew it, I was representing the South African olive industry in an online publication format.

  • What lead you to open your own business in the olive oil industry?

The road that lead to the opening of the Olive Branch Deli was quite fragmented.

After university, I struggled to get a job in the advertising field, maybe partly because I didn’t look hard enough, and partly because there weren’t that many specific marketing jobs available.

When I started researching olives for my father’s recipe, I learnt a lot about the olive oil industry in South Africa and the kind of problems they were facing. I read a lot of articles from the Olive Oil Times and learnt that South Africa was not part of the International Olive Council (IOC). I wanted to do something about that.

  • What do you enjoy most about this job?

What I’ve enjoyed most is to define our concept. We started out as a regular importer deli, but I soon realized it wasn’t sustainable for us. We then converted out concept to what we call a community grocer. That means, on a daily basis, we connect people with market vendors, the types of people you meet on a weekend farmer’s market. We learn the vendors’ story and help them to market their brands.

I love going to the markets all over the Western Cape, meeting new vendors and eventually getting their products. It’s quite a crazy thing being able to see a cured meat in the middle of Paarl, and then to have it in your store two days later, and being able to share that experience with people in the city. That’s definitely my favourite part.

  • What about your least favourite part?

Cleaning. But it’s very important in a deli. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is pretty cool.

  • How has the Olive Branch Deli influenced your life?

There is a lot of spirituality around the olive tree itself, the people who grow olives, and just the time it takes to grow them – it requires a lot of patience and appreciation for quality.I love having access to these inherently healthy products. Getting access to good quality olives is a whole new product category compared to what you find at your regular grocery store.

I’ve managed to meet some other like-minded people. There seems to be a sort of cult following around olives and olive oil, so I’ve managed to entertain that obsession of mine by meeting other people who have the same weird obsession with it – ‘cos I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I have this obsession with olives and olive oil.

  • How do you cope with people who don’t like olives?

One thing I love is when someone says,

“I don’t like olives.”

It’s our personal mission to convert them. So far we’ve converted 4 out of 5 people that have told us they don’t like olives – to the point where they told us they hadn’t eaten an olive in 15 years, and then actually ended up buying a jar.

  • Do you need a qualification to be a community grocer and open this niched kind of deli?

Something I recently asked myself was whether I needed to go to university. I studied Business Science in marketing at UCT, but did I need to do that to open this kind of business? The interesting thing is, I think the answer is no. I think I could have just jumped in there.

However, I think it would have taken me a lot longer. The concept that we reached after three months would have taken about 10 years without having had the knowledge of my studies.

Going to university isn’t always super important for actually starting a business, to getting the guts and just doing it, but it’s extremely important when it comes to understanding how to make a business last. I think whether or not a business lasts depends on what you learn in your studies, or on the kind of experiences you make after your studies.

  • Do you provide specific training for employees that come on board?

Yes. Basically what I do is try to share the knowledge that I have with regards to all the products, but specifically when it comes to olives and olive oil, because there are a lot of myths and negative stereotypes around it that we debunk.

It happens quite organically, because the employees see me explaining things to customers and how that changes the customer’s appreciation of the product. They’ll pick up the terms and use it themselves when speaking to customers.

Knowing the jargon is also extremely important, because in the olive oil industry there is a lot of misrepresentation on the packaging.

  • What is the earning potential for someone starting out in this business?

Delis are relationships businesses. It’s a family style business most of the time. It takes time to grow.

With a new business in general, it takes about 6 – 12 months to determine your midpoint or break-even point. After 5 months of having opened the shop, we’re breaking even, but to be honest, we’re not even thinking about profit yet.

You have to first wait to see how your business will do. There’s paying bills, paying off loans. So at the moment I can’t point out a specific start-off earning potential.

What I would tell someone who wants to go into the food deli industry is that there are much lower margins in food that with any other form of retail. With food, you’re lucky if you get a markup between 30% and 50%.

There is also issue of wastage. A lot of foods gets wasted, especially at the beginning. However, if you can almost eliminate your wastage (with organisations like Food 4 Thought), find the right mix of suppliers, and open up the right accounts, then you can get to a point where you can be quite profitable. There are examples of that in the city.

  • What advice do you have for someone wanting to open a food deli?

      1. Appreciate the food industry.

Your best kind of customers are going to be the chefs and the foodies. Those are the people who will be ambassadors for your business in their social and work circles

      2. Have a very clear concept.

Food is a less risky business than some others, because people need to eat and it’s the one thing that people will always spend money on. But, you either have to occupy a niche, or you need to have a sustainable concept.

      3. Be mobile.

You need to be able to change what you are offering to what’s currently in demand. That means adding new things, or letting go of other products. You can’t restrict yourself.

  • Any last quirky pearly of wisdom?

If you are going to start your own business, you have a platform to engage with your eccentricity. Your business can almost be your new personality.

One of the most exciting things about opening a business is that it’s a platform for you to be creative. If you had a certain persona or appearance in school or university, you can use your business to transform yourself and become a new person, and engage with new and different types of people – have a platform where you can engage your creative side.

Use the opportunity to communicate your message or art form, and do so with sustainable values.

Also, if you thought olives were Ome’s only expertise, think again. In this video, he shares with us the importance of his well-groomed, high-maintenance beard.

EduConnect 2cents

Ome’s current favourite two olives oils are Kleinoods’s De Boerin multi-varietal, and Kransfontein Landgoeds’s Coratina mono-cultivar.  

“I appreciate both these oils for their intense pungency, bitterness and grassy nose, as well as their perfect suitability in raw applications such as in fresh salads or when complimenting a pasta or gnocchi dish.”

Go try them out next time you pop into the Lifestyle Centre on Kloof. It’s also a super great gift idea to give to someone who enjoys gourmet food and cooking.

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