Pebbles kitchen dream comes true

Jesmin de Koker and Nadia Stevens serving some of the tasty meals prepared by the Pebbles Kitchen.

A chance meeting and a missed appointment way back in 2011 was the unlikely confluence of events that led to the realisation of a dream, when Pebbles Project director, Sophia Warner, launched the Pebbles Kitchen at Klein Joostenberg on Saturday morning.

The social enterprise opened its doors in January, and within a week was producing 1 300 nutritious, balanced meals a day for distribution to Pebbles early childhood development (ECD) centres and after-school clubs throughout the Cape Winelands.

As Paul Burema of Stichting Clouds Foundation, the principal donor organisation for the project, said at the ceremony: “Before you can get something into a child’s head you must first get food into the child’s stomach. A hungry child cannot learn.”

“Luckily, Paul and Jolanda (of Stichting Cloud Foundation) gave me a second chance, and in 2014 they funded our nutrition programme, which fed 258 children initially.” The meals were bought in from an outside service provider.

But the Pebbles Kitchen was a long-term dream of Ms Warner’s, realised after a three-month research project in 2015 concluded that a social enterprise kitchen was feasible, that could prepare meals for Pebbles’ various facilities initally, and also for other nutrition programmes and organisations.

“In 2017, Stichting Clouds Foundation and Stichting Goede Mensen (Netherlands-based charitable organisations) agreed to funding the setting up of the kitchen,” says Ms Warner, “ with (Stichting) Clouds (Foundation) also committing to a five-year funding period, during which the kitchen would grow and become more self-sustainable.”

This funding will cover the cost of Pebbles buying the prepared meals from the Pebbles Kitchen for distribution to its facilities for a five-year period.

Nobody in Pebbles had the skills or knowledge to undertake the project. “I approached my good friend, Dominic Johnson-Allen, who had a window of opportunity and brought him on board as our project manager,” Ms Warner says.

Mr Johnson-Allen, a hospitality and food services professional, takes up the story.

“When Sophia approached me, I was at a point in my career where I was able to take up the challenge of making the Pebbles Kitchen a reality.

“I decided that rather than pull in people from outside for the various aspects of the project, I would do as much as possible myself. It was challeging, but I learned a great deal, and we brought the project in on time and under budget,” Mr Johnson-Allen says.

“I’ve crafted a two-week menu of meals, which includes two vegetarian options. They are balanced nutritious and tasty, and they provide the sustenance a child needs to faciliate the learning process.”

The meals are prepared in the kitchen, blast-chilled to 10°C, packed for distribution and then frozen.

“It’s critial that the cold-chain is maintained, so the meals are distributed by refrigrated truck to the various Pebbles facilities, where they are stored in chest freezers,” Mr Johnson-Allen says.

“This building was donated by the Myburgh family. It was a ‘white box’ when I started, which I had to fully equip.

“The project cost, aside from the building, was about R2 million,” he says.

“It is a true social enterprise. We started with 1 300 meals a day, which will ramp up to 6 000 a day in the next few years.”

Aside from supplying meals to Pebbles facilities, the kitchen is already selling meals to other institutions and organisations.

Speaking after the formal opening ceremony, Ms Warner had this to say: “This is something that I could never have done on my own, and I am so grateful for the work that Dominic and his team put in to make this dream a reality.”