Freshly baked goods for travellers

THE woman behind the successful Eastern Cape Nanaga Farm Stall, makes running one of the most popular businesses in the region look as easy as pie.

One of the ingredients in the recipe behind the massive success of the Nanaga Farm Stall, is not trying to do too many things, but focussing on making a handful of items really well, says owner Leigh McKenzie.

Few people can resist the famous Nanaga pies and roosterkoek when stopping off at the farm stall for a quick bite while travelling. These two famous products made fresh daily at the premises, as well as the baked tarts and cakes, are a popular drawcard to the farm stall.

"People want fresh, quality products when they stop here tired from travelling. We are always looking for new homemade and good quality products to buy and sell at the store, like biscuits, jams and preserves," McKenzie said.

On busy days the Nanaga Farm Stall sells more than 3500 pies, and almost 2000 roosterkoeke. Some other ingredients for her business' success recipe are faith, a good support structure and passion. Although the family business has been around for more than 40 years, it has not been without its challenges.

In 2004 the farm stall burnt down due to an electrical fault and in 2009 they moved premises from right next to the N2 to where the N2 crosses with the N10 and R72. The small-scale farm stall and tea garden had been transformed and replaced with the modern farm stall, complete with a children's play area, spacious parking lot, conference facility, curio store and restaurant.

"I have learnt a lot of lessons along the way. When we built the bigger building it was very scary, we were not certain whether we needed all the space but it all worked out in our favour. We realised that we have to move with the times or get left behind. It has been an exciting journey – I eat, sleep, drink and live the farm stall. Having a passion for what you do is important... we have an interesting lifestyle," McKenzie said.

She moved to Nanaga from Johannesburg in 1999 with her husband, Malcolm, to be closer to her family and help with the farm stall which her mother, Lynn Lake, started more than 40 years ago. "It was a bit like history repeating itself. My mother and father, George, also moved down from Johannesburg to Nanaga for my father to start farming. We now live in the same house I grew up in," McKenzie says.

Although enjoying a well-deserved retirement in Port Alfred, Lake can often still be seen in the Nanaga farm stall stocking the shelves. When arriving on the farm as a "Joburg girl", the farm stall was an innovative way to start earning some extra money to keep up the cost of Lake's beehive hairstyle. She sold fresh vegetables and freshly squeezed pineapple juice – at first from a bakkie on the side of the road and later from the farm stall building.

McKenzie grew up learning about the importance of fresh products with Lake never selling an item that was baked the previous day. "Our freezer was full of these Devonshire cream cakes which my mom refused to sell if it was a day old," McKenzie said.

The gentle-natured McKenzie, who has four children between the ages of three and 14 years old, worked in the store full-time for five years before employing more staff, which allows her more flexible working hours. She now manages a staff of 50 with the farm stall's general manager Iain Withers. "He is an integral part of our business. I have a very good backup system with him and my husband. I believe that as a mother, it is important to have a good support structure and flexible work environment, which includes working out shifts that suit our employees," McKenzie said. - Cindy Preller