Norwood in South Australia is home to Silvia Hart’s fourth Seasonal Garden Cafe. From little things big things grow… By Frank Leggett
“My early adult life was filled with studying two degrees, running a vet clinic with my then husband, working in cafes and bars at night, and raising two children. After separating from my partner, I was offered a house with no electricity on a 40-acre permaculture farm. I jumped at the chance.
“My children and I lived there for three years. We grew all our own food, raised chickens and turkeys, and milked goats. It was during this time that I discovered the beauty of seasonal living and how it affects our biorhythms and quality of life. It is a way of living that is lost when you consistently shop in supermarkets, buying whatever you want, whenever you want.
“I met my next partner, who was a beekeeper, and we had two more children. I learnt beekeeping and started a honey label called Honey Lady. This launched me into demo cooking at markets and I appeared on local TV. At my demo cooks, my audience would often ask where they could come eat my food. It was this encouragement that inspired me to open my first cafe when this relationship ended.
“In nine years I had built my honey business from 30kg a week at market stalls to five tons a week with national and international distribution. I sold Honey Lady and opened the smallest cafe in the world, The Seasonal Garden Cafe in Hahndorf, SA. It didn’t even have a kitchen. I would cook everything at home the night before and heat it up at the cafe on little camp ovens.
“I worked seven days a week for 18 months. In two years we outgrew the cafe and moved to a bigger venue. A year later we had outgrown the new premises and I took on a two-acre venue with a building that had been empty for three years. I sold my house and sunk everything I had into this venue. We opened in February 2015 and I have not looked back. This mothership cafe enabled me to open three more cafes and a production kitchen. We do a minimum of 2000 covers a week at our main cafe and I’ve just hired my 70th staff member.
“My whole ethos springs from our connection with the planet and our seasonal food. I truly believe that if we don’t have nutritional wellbeing, we can’t be the best version of ourselves. What we gift our families and community stems from great nutrition. I’m also passionate about keeping our agricultural land free from development and our farmers being able to make a fair living.
“My success is due to picking the right people as part of my team. I hire for personality before skill—skill can be trained, personality cannot.”—Silvia Hart
“My biggest challenge as a business owner was learning how to manage people. My success is due to picking the right people as part of my team. I hire for personality before skill—skill can be trained, personality cannot. I also work tirelessly on my own personal development so I am the best person I can be. From this the rest flows.
“We have regular staff meetings and once the functional stuff is done, we spend time on personal development. Generally, I will speak or a staff member will share their insights. Not only does this bond us as a team, it also clearly conveys the purpose and ethos of our cafe.
“I want my staff to be passionate about coming to work. I have some long-time staff members who are brimming to the gills with enthusiasm. They share my vision and I’m happy to invest in them.
“Recently, I paid every staff member an extra hour’s pay to go home and think about who they are, what they want from life and what the cafe team can do to help. We supported one young man to find housing, get his driver’s licence and complete year 12. For the entire time he worked for the cafe he gave the business 100 per cent. Why? Because we gave him 100 per cent.
“I truly believe that, as a business owner, if you solely focus on dollars and cents then you’ll never be fulfilled. I want my life to count for something. I want the people with whom I surround myself to add to the wellbeing of the world at an individual and global level.
“My one piece of advice for anyone in business is to remember that your first priority is your staff. Look after them and they will look after you and your business. And, of course, hold true to your vision and never give up. Persistence and hard work prevail every time.”