All it takes is a quick glance at the menu for Skinny Legs Cafe in Cape Town to get a sense of who co-owner Donnet Dumas is.
Let’s take a look:
PORRIDGE OF THE GODS: oats, cinnamon, aniseed, seasonal fruit
COCONUT QUINOA: coconut milk porridge, cinnamon, baked seasonal fruit
TOKYO BOWL: brown rice, radish, cucumber, mushroom, miso citrus dressing
SWEET POTATO: kale, beluga lentils, greek yoghurt dressing
GOAT’S CHEESE: chevre melted on bread, slow roasted tomatoes, walnuts, vinaigrette
If you guessed she’s: conscious, gentle, thoughtful, balanced, elegant and healthy with a touch of luxury, then you’re right on track.
Originally from Pretoria, South Africa, Donnet began modeling at the age of 13 - a career that taken her to fashion capitals all over the world like London, Hong Kong, Paris and Milan.
So how does a successful international model come to own a cafe in Cape Town, you ask? “It was complete fate,” she says. And it all started over a goat’s cheese salad.
Skinny Legs had always been a cozy place she frequented while living in the area, especially with her family when it had first opened.
She was there one day with a friend, discussing a place she had come to in her life and her modelling career: it was time to start putting energy into something besides modelling, so she thought she’d either stay in Cape Town and try to find that thing, or move to LA and pursue acting.
“I kind of just put those two things out into the world and said “Let's see what happens,” she says. The original owner of the cafe brought her salad over and mentioned that they’d been thinking of selling the cafe. Remembering an early conversation with Donnet’s dad, a brilliant businessman by all accounts, the cafe owners asked if Donnet and her family might be interested in taking it over.
“Right as she handed me her card, two people walked into the cafe and one of them was my dad. He looked at me and said "I haven't been here in over a year," and I said “I haven't either.”
“Well what are you doing here?” he asked.
To which she responded, “Maybe buying a cafe.”
That was in October of 2014. By December Donnet and her mother had signed the new lease and in January 2015 they had re-opened the cafe as co-owners.
While they didn’t have a ton of experience running a restaurant, they had business experience and had always been "restaurant-y" people. They loved to eat out, paid attention to what they liked and didn’t like and had a strong sense of what worked and what didn't. So they went for it and based their decisions for the cafe on those things.
But it wasn’t exactly easy. “The first 6 months were some of the hardest of my life,” Donnet admits.
But the cafe has grown and flourished under their ownership and they’ve even opened a second location across town. Part of their success, aside from the lovely food, is understanding that it’s not about them.
“It’s not about us, it's about the people - creating a good space for them, listening to their wants and needs. It's a strange thing because it makes you realize that the cafe industry isn't about the food necessarily, it's about creating an experience. And it's about the people that come there.”
It makes for a welcoming and inclusive space that people want to give to and receive from.
“What’s so amazing about the space is that it doesn't hold one person, everyone brings their own stuff to it and takes what they want from it as well. So it almost belongs to the world, in a way.”
So here's to the people who create spaces for us all, homes away from home, comforting scenes and faces, delicious smells and flavors. It's not easy but they're looking out for us and providing us just what we need.