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Review of Willeen’s in Sunday Times, 10 August 2014

Raphaella Frame-Tolmie meets a woman who turned her home into a snacking sensation by the sea

‘Kassiesbaai is ’n lekker baai,” says Willeen de Villiers of the quaint fishing village in Arniston, where she runs a small restaurant from her home. De Villiers moved into the cottage with her daughters in 2003 and started an arts-and-crafts shop, selling crocheted goodies and other knick-knacks from her lounge. She also served tea and scones. Following a chat with a German tourist over some soetkoekies, she realised she had the perfect foundations for something more — a restaurant.

So, in 2009 she broke down one of the walls of her living room to make a bigger space and, thanks to some donations of fridges, freezers and other equipment, as well as her own accumulation of furniture, she opened her front room to the public and began serving light meals at reasonable prices that locals could also afford.

“This is a traditional village, so I can’t have a fancy menu.” In winter, when fish is not as abundant, the already concise offering is even smaller.
Her breakfast and lunch options include fishcakes, pickled fish and lamb chops. When asked what her favourites are, De Villiers says: “I love bobotie. It takes a lot of time because you do it with care. And I also love oxtail with bredie and rice. In summer, yellowtail, cob and Cape salmon, but my favourite is galjoen.”

The cuisine is homely, served beneath rafters hung with fishing nets and buoys that bear the autographs of visitors.
De Villiers says she inherited her creativity from her father and that her mother made her strong. Given how her culinary reputation has grown, she needs that stamina to keep up with the demand in peak season.

“It feels like 100 years of work in 10 years,” she laughs, but the restaurant is not her ultimate ambition. “My dream is to have a deli like in 7de Laan!”
The cooking is communal, with family members lending a hand whenever they can. In December, when it’s busy, De Villiers’s sister Suzie cooks by her side. “It’s nice to have this little place here, it’s part of me” she says. “Childhood wasn’t easy, but now I can try to be somebody. That’s special to me.”

The cottage is in a prime position, with uninterrupted views over the beach and dunes. The best seats are at the picnic tables outside. De Villiers chats about her ideas to involve the community children in an event for Arniston’s bicentenary in 2015, and how, although she’s tired, she enjoys her job. “We didn’t know what we had here until we started the business.”

House number C26, Kassiesbaai, Arniston, 0284459995