An Unravelling Exploration recently spoke to Fritz from De Oude Bank Bakkerij about why he feels passionate about his vocational exploration. This is my experience of Fritz and his crew at Schoon de Companje.
The Art of Exploration: Fritz Schoon.
I walked into Schoon de Companje and whilst adjusting my eyes to the detail around me I found a seat by the bar where they sell the beer.
‘Aleck, do you still have some more ice?’ asked Abigail, cheerfully walking past.
Aleck smiled and said that he did not.
‘Ok,’ said Abigail. ‘I’ll send somebody to go get you some as well.’ She said it politely and Aleck nodded, still smiling, working his Darling slowbeer tap.
In my mind the wind picks up.
My eyes caught a picture of an old ship sailing under a Dutch flag crashing through a stormy sea. I try and picture myself on such a ship at the heart and core of what it means to be an explorer.
Not long after I saw the picture, Fritz joined me with his glass of wine and we started talking. We talked about his journey to Stellenbosch and De Companje and I shared stories of distant shores and approved when he told me about his time living on a yacht in Knysna whilst learning the trade alongside the best in the business.
The wind picks up even more and I can almost feel the place move as the sails start to fill.
We keep talking. Now we are sitting outside sharing stories of expeditions we made into Africa. We talked about why it is important to love what you do and to love the adventure.
I can see that you have a deep love for what you do?
He smiled; ‘Life is pretty excellent when you can express yourself fully in what you do as a day job.’
How old are you now, Fritz?
Your dream at the age of 17?
No dream. Living the dream. No plan.
What has been your biggest adventure in life thus far?
I have had many.
Biggest must be when I was still working in Construction. Construction holidays are (or use to be?) 15 days in December. My (then future) brother-in-law and myself, jumped in his mini Pajero and travelled 8000 km in those 2 weeks with no itinerary. We started in Cape Town and drove through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Caprivi to Namibia from North to South and back to Stilbaai for New Years eve. We slept on farms and sometimes next to the road. Caught our breakfast in Torra Baai. All of this without a tent.
He forgot the tent. Fun and games.
I must say though, my 2 years after construction, when I moved to Knysna to learn the trade of Artisan Baking, was most significant personal journey. I lived on an old boat in the harbour. Didn’t have any friends. Just living life. Getting to know myself properly. Another great experience was running the Cape Odyssey with my varsity roommate. It was a 240km trail running race, running a marathon every day for 5 days over the mountains. It is a team race of two people. He trained in Bloem and me in Kempton Park. The first day we got together was the day before the race. We were the youngest and most inexperienced team by far and we were running for the podium. A great time for us and very challenging, mentally. And I believe the personal challenges I have allowed in my life has made my mind stronger than the average guy. That is why a project like De Companje would never scare me.
List five of your interests?
The will of God Almight; My wife; Music; Authentic/artisan foods and the wine industry; Physical challenges.
What makes you feel passionate about your work?
The sheer challenge of it. Everything is no natural; the ingredients, the process, our philosophy behind it. Everyday is unpredictable; how the dough reacted to overnight fermentation, the liveliness of the natural yeasts, the heat contained by the oven from the overnight fire. Working a new dough with different sets of hands, baking it in an oven that is most probably different than yesterday, and attempting consistency.
The product is so wholesome and healthy, and we are really contributing to the health and wellbeing of this town. I am passionate about the people that are employed here and I am passionate about good food. I am passionate about our offering and originality.
What was the one thing that made you realize that you could make your dream come true?
My first business failed and if managed differently and with some experience, it could have worked. Life requires hard work, endurance, patience, applied wisdom, faith, integrity and uncompromising dedication. If you can apply those things any dream can come true.
What do you think of Picasso’s following words: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I have never heard it. I love it though.
Before Jesus started His ministry, he spent 40 days and nights fasting. He spent it in the wilderness. Man alone in nature is very good for finding that gift. Regarding the latter part of that quote; for a young business owner this is not easy. To share it in the sense that people enjoy the application of your gift, this is easy. To share it in the sense that you empower people to go do the same is quite challenging. I don’t believe that all interested people should be doing what I do. The majority of people see a successful business and want it because of their want of money and financial success. I cannot and will not support this motivation and have thus not opened myself up to do classes or demo’s.
Bread baking is an absolute labor of love. And I did it before I knew what the earthly rewards were going to be. But I do believe that everything that I have gained from experience MUST be shared in order for our industry to grow in South Africa.
What is your favorite quote, and why does this specific quote have a special meaning?
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” – Jer 29:11
If I do not force any closed doors and have enough faith and courage to jump through the open ones, how bad can it be? Worst that could happen is we could die. That can’t be too bad.
One day your kid comes home and tells you that his biggest dream is to become a professional clown. What would you tell him?
Then you must be the best. And you must be able to accept the circumstances and results of your choices. When I became a baker after finishing my BSc Quantity Surveying, my dad said “Well, it is your choice, and I will support you, but you must understand that you chose an industry that is probably the most difficult to make a living from.”
The perfect recipe takes time to master, right?
It takes a lifetime. A recipe changes every season as the weather changes and every year when the new wheat has been harvested. Mixing times, fermentation times, water intake. All these things change all the time. The recipe is merely a guideline.
Using Black Betty (your wood fired oven) as your weapon of choice, you bake delicious loaves of bread and invite people to your very explorative and inspiring restaurant, but what is it really about for you- is this part of your life’s work or just a business venture?
It is absolutely who we are. This is very personal. We are not planning on franchising or copying this in any way. We also see our offering as our contribution to this town. I believe in a self-sustainable environment where locals support each other.
How important is it to have support from the people around you?
De Oude Bank Bakkerij would have still been just that if it wasn’t for Chanelle. Chanelle made this whole new section possible. I believe in keeping it in the family as far as possible. Most people say that you shouldn’t go into business with your family and in most cases this is true, but it depends on what your family is based. No one will back you like family will. This is also why my staff has become my family.
I tend to their personal situations at home like I would to my sister’s. In return they have my back, look after my place and treat it like their own. Without my people, my foundation, I cannot grow.
If you knew you could not fail, what would you do next?
Become a musician or make a film.
Would you give an 30min of your time every second week for a young and aspiring baker/dreamer/explorer to come and have coffee with you?
His words dropped the anchor. Is life pretty excellent? I quickly remembered what Larry Smith said about this: “Passion should be your highest calling, your biggest love and the greatest expression of your talent. Only once you’ve found your passion, will you be able to have a great career.”
I got my answer.
I looked around as the sun set over Church street. If ever there was an example of a captain behind the wheel of a crew he cares for, daring to set sail towards greatness, I found it here. It was like finding that little forgotten piece of the core of exploration.
This was champagne sailing.
Schoon de Companje goes in search of a new frontier. Seeking out uncharted maps of culinary excellence. Maybe its time for you to go on an adventure, and once again become aware of the risks and rewards of exploration.
33° 56’ 17,70’’ S 18° 51’ 36,36” E
Schoon De Companje
Corner of Church and Bird Street, Stellenbosch.
Tel (021) 883-2187
Tuesday – Saturday 7h30 – 19h00, Sunday 8h00 – 15h00.