If you’ve ever visited the Coffee Roasting Company on Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, and tarried for a while over a coffee and pastry, you’ll have seen a striking, raven-haired woman going about her business.
You’ll have watched her engaging with patrons, many of whom know her well and are on first name terms, because they are regular, loyal visitors to her establishment.
And you’ll have seen her engaging with her staff, directing operations where she must, but otherwise maintaining oversight of the multi-faceted operation that she has grown the business into, since she took over its running, eight years ago.
Zita Rabeck grew up in Namibia, moving to South Africa in 1982 with her family. She went to school at Hottentots Holland High, then studied at Stellenbosch University where she achieved a BA degree, followed by a post-graduate teaching diploma at the University of Cape Town.
She married in 1993, and after 15 years in a troubled relationship, from which she finally managed to extricate herself in 2008, she embarked upon the arduous task of raising her three daughters, Tatiana, Heike, and Merlind, as a singe parent.
I first met Zita in the early days of the Coffee Roasting Company, when Lucien Verrezen, who started the business in 2003, introduced me to her during one of my regular visits to buy our supply of coffee.
As the months wore on, and I made my regular visits, the penny eventually dropped that Lucien, himself the victim of a painful marriage, had finally found somebody with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
They gave, as a couple, new meaning to the term, soulmates.
Visits to the family home in Erinvale Golf Estate were always a riotous affair, because the children of both families, seven in number, were usually all there, and it was deeply rewarding to see the central role that Zita played in the lives of the combined family. It was a happy, sunny home, where the children could shine and grow.
Tragically, Lucien collapsed and died suddenly, while he and Zita were visiting friends in Cape Town for dinner, on September 3 2011, and with frightening suddenness, Zita was once more on her own.
By that time, she had become an integral part of the business, but Lucien had made no provision for her in his will, so she had to buy the business out of his deceased estate, and assume the daunting responsibility of ensuring it remained a going concern.
In the meantime, she had to take care of her daughters, and Dylan, Lucien’s elder son, and also her mom and dad, who lived in Somerset West.
She toiled mightily to grow the business, starting a satellite roastery at Blauwklippen in 2012, to service the important Stellenbosch market, and in typically decisive fashion, when she saw the writing on the wall, she shut it down.
In time, what was a boutique coffee roastery, servicing a dauntingly discerning market – corporate and private – that spanned the Western Cape, grew to become a thriving hospitality business with a loyal, regular patronage, and a burgeoning catering business, producing a wide array of catering offerings, all prepared according to Zita’s exacting standards.
She is a self-taught chef, but she is a formidable talent in the kitchen.
And the eternal underpinnings of the business are the two infra-red roasters, manned by two coffee roasters – Jeera Munyaradzi and Harry Nahriwa – both trained by Zita, in the fine art of coffee roasting, quietly producing the finest coffee I have ever tasted.
Zita imports and roasts 33 single origin highland-grown, hand-picked arabica coffees, and she also crafts a variety of specialist blends.
Zita met John Stevens in 2013, after she sought help with the financials of the business, which, according to her, were in crisis. What started as a consulting relationship, became, unbelievably, a second chance at love.
Zita had, against all the odds, found another soulmate. And John, in short order, helped her get the financials of the business back on track, and they could embark on the next growth phase, together.
Talking to John about how the business has unfolded of late, he’ll tell you that it had nothing to do with him. “Zita is the power behind the business. I just look after the books.”
Zita tells a different story: “People talk about the fact that behind every successful man, there is a strong, supportive woman. Well, behind many successful women, I believe you’ll find a strong, supportive man. I’ve been blessed to have two such men in my life who have provided me with the support I needed to achieve the successes that I have.
“Yes, there are so many women who have suffered dreadfully at the hands of men, but in my view, to characterise all men as inherently bad, is just plain wrong. It is time we acknowledge those men, like Lucien and John, who are so supportive of the women in their lives.”
Zita makes a tart comment: “We women need to remember that the men who have abused women, were raised by women. I know it’s old and hackneyed, but as the saying goes ‘she who rocks the cradle rules the world’.
“I believe that in Women’s Month, we women ought to take some time to honour the supportive men in our lives.”
Zita offers coffee tastings at the Coffee Roasting Company by appointment. Contact her on 021 846 0536 for more details.