“It would have been very difficult to work for someone else,” says Chani Maré of their return to their home town of Pretoria after years of sailing the globe. She and her brother Dylan and his wife Mariëtte spent most of their youth managing luxury yachts in the Caribbean.
Chani says they did not grow up in business families, but a love of nature and the outdoors was a prominent part of their upbringing. This led to scuba-diving and an interest in the sea, and when Chani started crewing for yachts in the Caribbean, Dylan and Mariëtte soon followed.
Although they worked there as salaried employees, they were virtually running their own businesses. Chani explains that they were hired by yacht owners, usually rich business people from the US, to manage and run their yachts in the Caribbean as floating guest houses.
Not only would they skipper the yachts, but they would host groups of up to ten holidaying tourists at a time while sailing from one island to another. As glamorous as it sounds, it was also gruelling work. When hosting a group, they would be on duty night and day, cooking, taking care of and often providing family counselling to groups thrown together at close quarters for days at a time. “It’s like a guest house on steroids,” says Chani.
Apart from learning the operations of an intense hospitality business, Chani also developed a love for cooking. When she got a call from an old school friend asking her to help out with starting a restaurant in Cape Town, she and Mariëtte jumped at the opportunity with their characteristic sense of adventure. The Cape Town restaurant, which was linked to a theatre, did not work, but a few months later they started a French-themed restaurant in Stellenbosch on behalf of a local businessman. The restaurant did very well, but soon Chani and Mariëtte were back chasing adventure in the Caribbean. “We were young, and we didn’t own shares in the restaurant,” says Chani.
But then they received news of their father’s cancer diagnosis, and they returned to Pretoria to make sure that he was coping. Initially, they did not intend to stay, but in order to sustain themselves for a while they tried their hand at various ventures. Dylan started hosting spit-braais for private events, and Chani and Mariëtte baked cakes and started taking catering orders.
Given their somewhat free-wheeling approach, it is not surprising that D.O.U.G.H grew almost entirely organically, without an overarching plan. The three are extremely hard workers and loved catering and entertaining, so almost every gig blossomed and led to more opportunities and collaboration. After a few months it made sense for Chani, Dylan and Mariëtte to join forces in one business, and soon they were scrambling to find their first formal industrial premises.
Their reputation as top-quality event caterers grew, and their delicious take-away lamb pita became a hit on at the Hazel Food Market, a well-known weekly artisanal market in Pretoria. Today, their lamb pita still a best-seller at no fewer than four regular food markets, and remains the best advertisement for their catering service, says Chani.
In 2016, an executive for whom they catered suggested that they put in a bid to run the staff canteen for the King Price head office in Pretoria. Running a canteen was not only an opportunity for an additional income stream, but the particular venue happened to be well suited for hosting parties and events.
They won the bid, but had to raise more than R1 million to kit out the venue. Bank finance would not have been enough, but Business Partners Limited, based on the promise of the business and the strength of the business owners, was willing to lend them the capital to start the venue, which they named Moonshot.
Today, Moonshot is thriving, with 80% of its revenue coming from night-time and weekend events hosted there.
Chani says a major part of their success is their strength as a team. Having travelled and worked together for so long, they know each very well. Mariëtte oversees the finance and administrative side of the business, Chani runs menu development and the catering operations of Moonshot, while Dylan manages the spit-braai operations and events.
A constant challenge is finding quality staff, especially someone with management potential who could run an event without their presence.
A possible next step for the three business owners is to acquire their own events venue, but being the adventurers that they are, the business might take them in all sorts of unexpected directions.