Mark Eveleigh takes to the streets of South Africa in search of the quirkiest ‘road stores’
Like the slow-cooked Afrikaans potjie stew, some of the best things take their time to come together. Thirty years ago, Ronnie Price had an idea to start a padstal (‘road store’) on the highway that runs past his farm. “I only got as far as painting ‘Ronnie’s Shop’ on the side of my old barn,” he tells me, “then I went off the boil and forgot all about it.”
A few years later, Ronnie’s mischievous mates added their own graffiti to the sign. Today, Ronnie’s Sex Shop is one of the most famous landmarks on Route 62, South Africa’s version of Route 66.
There’s little beyond the sign that’s sexy about Ronnie’s, but with about 200 visitors each day it’s probably South Africa’s most popular padstal. Business really started to boom when Ronnie extended his little empire to include the Roadkill Cafe and a souvenir shop, where he does a roaring trade in Ronnie’s Sex Shop T-shirts, caps and cooking aprons.
Padstalle have been a feature of South African travel since way back in the days when the first innovative farmer’s wife set up a little roadside stall selling whatever homemade produce she had to offer. While the concept is just becoming known to foreigners, some locals plan their entire weekend outing around the padstal that sells the most delicious pies, preserves, biltong or even the most beautiful homemade embroidery or furniture.
Heading east around the pretty seaside town of Knysna, I pass countless other padstalle. Irell Muller has changed little in her charming Elephant Walk Farm Stall over the years, while entrepreneur Rhys Miller has given nearby Heath Café a complete overhaul to turn it into one of the most successful venues on the burgeoning Plattenberg Wine Route. Even here, there’s a sense of getting back to simple country values, however: Rhys says a local commune of Rastafarians supply him with his delicious hempseed cookies.
After the town of Wilderness, I detour inland up Prince Alfred’s Pass, stopping when I spot a sign that says: ‘Angie’s G Spot: hot beer, lousy food, bad service, kak accommodation’.
The owners, Harold and Angie Beaumont, claim their delightfully quirky little homestead is almost entirely self-sufficient. Angie bakes homemade bread on the old wood-fired stove and Harold shoots antelope with a crossbow for the game curry and venison pies they sell in their Pit Stop Bar. Part of the Beaumonts’ own living quarters comprise a 1952 bus built into the wall, and the couple recently added charming little bungalows for guests.
While most padstal owners tip a hat to the old traditions, it seems constant evolution is a part of the recipe for success. Like the most delicious potjies, you can really add anything you want.