Food Lovers is still growing

Food Lovers’ Market in Greendale started off as Honeydew Market back in 1982 and some people still refer to the shop as Honeydew. Whatever…the main thing is that everyone knows exactly which shop is being referred to! Mike Willcox had always been passionate about beekeeping and growing vegetables so back in 1980 he took a risk and set out to live his dream. Initially, he rented the 12-acre smallholding along Greendale Avenue. At that time it was already a going concern but obviously nothing like on the scale it is now. In 1983 Mike and his wife negotiated to buy the property outright. The business became so busy that the existing farm stall was modified and expanded extensively over time. A larger farm shop was built in 1990 and is still the basis of the shop as it is now.

Today Food Lovers Greendale has the distinction of being the third busiest branch of the Food Lovers franchise in Africa – that’s out of a total of 136 branches across the region. Despite its phenomenal success and rapid growth, it has remained a family business with Mike’s sons, Dustin and Jason, now in charge. The well known restaurant at Food Lover, Brento’s, is run by their daughter Chantelle Brent – maiden name Willcox. After operating successfully for around 20 years a decision was made to sell the business, not the land, to CFI Holdings, with a 9-year lease on the land. After 8 years CFI decided to give back the lease to the Willcox family in exchange for a goodwill settlement. The family was very happy to have the business back under their control and in November 2011 the new Food Lovers started trading.

Although the original farm stall had been adapted and extended over the years, in 2017 the family embarked on a major renovation for the main shop. They were so successful that they needed more retail space within the shop as well as more space for extra till points. The family engaged local architect Bruce Rowlands from Architexture Spatial Design to remodel and modernise the main shop. There had also been a terrible fire several years ago when the thatched roof of the restaurant went up in flames. So it was decided that the thatch on the main shop would have to be replaced by a Chromadek roof, the front facade of the shop would be pushed forward to make more space, and bigger windows would be installed to make the cashier area lighter and feel less cramped. In addition, new admin offices were built above the shop to free up more space.

There were, however, two major restrictions to be adhered to. The new shop needed to maintain the rustic farm feel which is a major part of the shop’s appeal, and the renovations had to take place while the shop was still operating. Once the walls of the new facade were in place the new mezzanine floor was built. Over a single weekend, steel beams were put in place with wooden decking on top to create the roof section over the cashiers. Only then could the existing thatch be removed and the new Chromadek roof installed. The shop is now much brighter and more spacious but still retains its original ‘farmhouse’ character. After several long years of protracted negotiations, the family was finally able to secure the rights to further commercialise the property.

Architexture Spatial Design, together with the Willcox family, have conceived of a development master plan which will take place in phases over the next few years. The plan includes a variety of retail outlets, services like opticians, pharmacies and doctors’ rooms, relocating the restaurant and finally a residential phase which will include townhouses and flats. The retail section will be known as the Honeydew Lifestyle Centre. A central spine will run through the complex for pedestrian access. The spine will be almost like an extension of Stewart Road which runs past the Red Fox Hotel bringing life and activity right into the heart of the site.

Starting in June 2017 they embarked on their ambitious development programme and Phase 1 is already complete.

Phase 1 consists of a number of shops set around a courtyard that’s open to Metcalf Road. Shops include Toyland, which faces onto Greendale Avenue, as well as Dusk Home, Turning Heads (hair salon), Link Optician, Honeydew Pharmacy, The Baby Shop and Machipisa Store for school uniforms. More retail outlets are included in the master plan.

Phase 2 will involve relocating the restaurant as the ground level street frontage is valuable for shops and part of the restaurant will need to be demolished to accommodate the pedestrian walkway. They have already started landscaping the site to create a large lake which the new restaurant will overlook. Obviously, the new restaurant needs to be finished before the old one can be demolished. Phase 3 will include offices, doctors’ rooms and a gym with the potential for an outdoor running track around the lake. The residential project will happen a few years into the future and will be the final stage of the development.

Along the way, during the development of different phases, it’s envisaged that Henning’s Nursery will relocate from where they are now. The nursery is a major attraction that serves to draw shoppers in to the new complex. The nursery is also an instant beautifier of the new sites and helps to soften the fresh construction projects.

Throughout all the proposed developments the Willcox family have been adamant that the original rustic feel of the property must be preserved. Some parts of the property will continue to be used for growing vegetables. Gary Wilkes oversees the production of vegetables on this prolific piece of land that still supplies around 80% of all the green, leafy vegetables sold in the shop. The family feels that growing fresh vegetables and getting them into the shop in the shortest possible time is one of the main reasons for their phenomenal success. And the shoppers obviously appreciate it too. Rowlands has managed to retain the farmhouse character of the original Honeydew Farm by designing the structures to be built in rough facebrick, incorporating solid teak window and door frames, exposed roof trusses inside and wide verandahs on the exteriors.

The verandah roofs are supported by chunky solid Cyprus columns which add to the rustic charm. The main contractor for the build was Rorke Construction and it was project managed by Granit Oak. Rowlands was responsible for the overall design concept (with input from the Willcox family), while the rest of his team was made up of Aleck Mwedzi, Gemma Temlett and Gift Mutotera who together came up the master plan, working drawings, design details and the 3D renderings.

text by Michael Nott

photos supplied by Michelle Fortmann and Bruce Rowlands

renderings by Architexture Spatial Design

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