THE KNYSNA OYSTER COMPANY – Fresh shucked oysters directly from the source
This company needs no introduction to South Africans nor does the legendary Knysna oyster.
John and Gavin come from large established families in Johannesburg and they both went to school at St Stithian’s College in Sandton. Gavin studied B.Comm at UNISA and John studied B.Comm at Rhodes University, followed by a Master in Finance at Denver University in the USA. Together they gained experience in corporate reporting, financing and stockbroking. In 1999, they opened Graffiti – a successful branding, digital print and outdoor media company based in Johannesburg. After selling the company in 2013, they were ready for a new challenge and lifestyle change, so they both headed to Cape Town with their families.
They then purchased Knysna Oyster Company. This business was a vast leap from where their experience lay and still poses daily challenges to them. They both admit that taking over this company has been a huge learning curve and they have had to learn farming operations, distribution and retail from the ground up.
So where does the V&A Food Market fit in? The market has become a strategically placed distribution hub for The Kynsna Oyster Company and a smartly packaged brand awareness exercise. A seated oyster bar a stone throw away from the sea where fresh oysters are kept in saltwater tanks and then shucked in front of you. Then not 1 size oyster but 5 sizes of oysters in Medium, Large, X-Large, Giant and Super Jumbo. They are then served up traditionally on beds of crushed ice or grilled and paired off with De Grendel MCC or wine. Further brand expansion includes a hot grill where chefs serve up seared tuna, black mussels, prawns as well as cold mezze of seafood ideal as a cocktail platter.
We asked John why on the last Knysna Oyster Festival I could only find oysters in restaurants and not the oyster beds? He informed me that despite popular belief, Knysna oysters are not farmed in the Knysna Lagoon and that a stop was put to doing so by San Parks, to ensure the protection of this national estuary that runs into the Knysna Lagoon. They moved the entire farming operation to Port Elizabeth and the nutrient density sea, which allows for that sea taste that is synonymous with the brand. They employ 28 people living in that region on this oyster producing farm and they assist in processing, packaging and exporting to China, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Ghana.
He also told us that 26% of the company is owned by an employee trust and majority of their staff are previously disadvantaged persons below the age of 30. That is not to mention the five employees that work at the V&A Food Market.
Well done John and Gavin for making a difference and trying to relieve the youth unemployment that threatens our country on a daily basis.