Why Darling is the West Coast’s entrepreneurial heartbeat
It is said that those who drop out of university are the ones who become the world’s top entrepreneurs. Well, if the quaint town of Darling is anything to go by, the ones who leave the fast-paced life of the city are the ones who establish successful start-ups in the platteland towns of the Cape West Coast.
Of the four tastes our taste buds can experience, three have been harnessed, branded and packaged by entrepreneurs in Darling – with stunning results. Owning bitter, the Darling Brew beer brewery has grown into an international brand. Claiming sweet as their own, Darling Sweet produces hand-crafted toffees while Darlington Gin has made the best kind of sour their own, redefining London Dry Gin with a unique juniper concentration.
Here are the stories behind the visionaries who live the slow life while their businesses grow at a rapid pace.
The idea for Darling Brew was fittingly conceived on a trip into Africa. Making their way north, the founders struck upon a big idea: start a microbrewery in South Africa. All the passion in the world does not translate into knowledge, however, and the getting of the idea was followed by many months figuring out how to make it a reality. As is the case with most entrepreneurs, persistence and a little luck got them the breakthrough they needed. A chance meeting led to a contract with an established brewer for brew and Darling Brewery became economically viable.
“Slow beer” is the philosophy behind Darling Brew inspired, of course, by the pace of life – and the best way to brew beer – on the West Coast. Unsurprisingly, the slow-moving West Coast geometric tortoise influenced the look and feel of the brand creating a beer that took the South African market by storm.
Today, Darling Brew is sold in Cape Town, Johannesburg and, yes, even Brazil. The company is behind some of the biggest events in Darling. The Darling Brew Extreme has been running for five years attracting mountain bikers from all over the Western Cape. For music lovers, the Darling Brew Summer Festival has become a must-go-to.
Of awards there have been plenty. This year, the brand won five accolades at The African Beer Cup so doing getting recognition from the very continent on which it was born.
For a sweet success story we don’t have to look further than Darling Sweet, a shop not too far from the tasting room of Darling Brew. Founded by Frits van Ryneveld and Hentie van der Merwe, Darling Sweet is a continuation of the town’s long-standing tradition of producing high-quality butter – the main ingredient of toffees. Hand-crafting old-fashioned toffees of exceptional quality, the company pays homage to Darling, and taps it for inspiration. Its first three toffee flavours were: Tannie Evita’s Classic, Honey & Salt, and Sour Fig.
And it has paid off. In 2014 Frits resigned from his full-time job as a medical representative and converted his 24 square metre antique shop into a production kitchen. Hentie also resigned from his lecturing position at Stellenbosch University to follow his dream. Today, Darling Sweet employs 21 full-time and 11 part-time members of staff and produces toffee products in a 500 square metre production facility in the stately Edwardian building on Long street that once housed Darling’s General Dealer business.
Darlington Gin proclaims itself as the ‘Spirit of Darling’, and with good reason. On the label of each bottle of Darlington Gin, you will see the silhouette of the Kukumakranka plant indigenous to the Namaqualand just north of Darling.
To create a truly unique gin, the Darlington team infuses their spirit with Kukumakranka and occasionally also a hint of a Darling seasonal florals. Whether incidentally or by design, being “kukumakrankas” is a colloquial way of saying you might have a screw loose, which is exactly what’s needed when deciding to start your own business. You’ll find the stories of the founders of Darlington – Charles Withington, Ida Opperman and Riaan Neethling – under the heading ‘The Kukkus’ on their website poking fun at this attribute all entrepreneurs appear to share.
Darlington Gin is sold in the Darling Wine Shop to connoisseurs and those simply “kukkus” about gin alike.
Whether it’s something in the water or the serene peace and quiet, Darling seems to be particularly suited to those with the drive build a business from the ground up. In addition to the enterprises mentioned above, many others thrive in this West Coast town proving that all it takes to make it in this world is a small idea, and a whole lot of passion.
This article was brought to you by West Coast Office National