Sunday Tribune

Thinking out of the box to e

A love of plant-based, mostly organicall­yproduced food that is dairy-, egg- and preservati­ve-free has taken a husband-andwife team on a different culinary journey, writes Liz Clarke


AN ABILITY to change direction and not be afraid of challenges is the hallmark of successful entreprene­urs. No one knows that better than husband-and-wife foodie team Ursula and Rob Haupt, whose Chilliplum Restaurant in Hillcrest is ranked one of the top three favourite places to eat in the Upper Highway.

While they are proud that Tripadviso­r has consistent­ly accorded the restaurant a high rating for quality and service, and they’ve been ranked the country’s top vegan fine-food restaurant, the couple believes it’s time to begin a new chapter in their culinary journey.

“We want to share our passion for creating different and innovative foodie lines with a broader audience,” says Ursula, the restaurant’s owner.

Sitting in the convivial eatery, one which could happily fit into any contempora­ry and trendsetti­ng shopping precinct, it’s difficult to imagine this congenial host and hostess would want to do anything differentl­y.

A bowl of gnocchi that might have been created by an old Italian mamma, washed down with a glass of Ataraxia Serenity 2010, plus a delicious crostini, topped with all kinds of magic, prompts the same question.

Rob, an internatio­nally trained chef with strong French roots, says that in the food industry nothing remains static. You always have to think out of the box and be prepared to change direction.

“My first venture in 2013 was a small coffee bar in Kloof, where I introduced unusual items on our menu,” says Ursula. “But it wasn’t long before I wanted to spread my wings and do something a little more adventurou­s.”

Chilliplum, with its distinctiv­e magenta-coloured signage in the Richdens Shopping Centre in St Margaret’s Road, fitted the bill.

Under Rob and Ursula’s care, it soon became synonymous with genuine, gourmet food that adhered to the strict, meatless vegan code of no dairy or eggs – the only restaurant of its kind in the province.

“We loved what we were doing,” says Ursula. “Although 90% of our customers are meat eaters we had a faithful following, but in these cash-strapped days it is not always financiall­y possible to follow the purist route.

“You have to accept that society changes at its own pace, and sometimes one has to pause for a moment, to survive commercial­ly.”

The compromise has been to combine the vegan concept with an alternativ­e choice of dishes, including organic, free range, hormone-free meat items with a wider appeal, particular­ly to suit the more conservati­ve male customers.

“It was a tough decision, because as a family we were vegan,” explains Rob. “But it also taught us that you need to widen your horizons and explore other possibilit­ies.”

From that explorator­y process, the couple set about creating their own commercial range of foods, which they introduced to various grocery stores in Hillcrest.

“You are never going to get the wow moment straight off,” says Ursula. “Being a marketing person, I know that all too well. But they really liked what we gave them to sample.”

Within weeks the door to their new venture had opened. Their Chilliplum brand of ready-made meals, pasta sauces, burger sauces, salad dressings, pesto, butter, cheese sauce, cakes and ice cream (all dairy- and egg-free) are already on the shelves of the Kwikspar in Hillcrest and the Waterfall Superspar in Watercrest Mall.

Master chef Rob says: “We have entered a hugely competitiv­e market, where the profit margins are not big. It means you have to come up with something that is innovative and shoppers might not have seen in supermarke­ts.”

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