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Families within the family – Meet Hammer and Spyker
Robberg Fine Foods may be one of the biggest businesses in Plettenberg Bay, but it’s still family owned, spanning four decades and three generations.
From humble beginnings in the 1970s, this family-run enterprise has grown organically from a few small fishing boats to a large seafood and fine foods distribution network.
But the company hasn’t forgotten its roots and that is what makes it such a strong player in the industry. The family values still run deep, a quality that is evident in the people who work for Robberg. The owners may be related, but it’s the sense the employees have of belonging that makes it a family business. And, it’s the fact that so many of the employees are, in turn, family of one another.
Meet Hammer and Spyker
Take Ryan and Riaan for example, fondly referred to as Hammer and Spyker. The van Rensburg brothers, who have been working at Robberg for a few years now, have a strong work ethic instilled in them by their grandfather who would often rope them in when working on building projects at home.
“No task is too big an ask with them,” points out marketing manager Matuschka Sinclair. “One day over the festive season a few employees were needed to stay on after hours to load a truck. Spyker and a few others were quick to volunteer, and they didn’t leave until the entire truck was fully packed.”
As youngsters, Ryan and Riaan’s grandfather would regularly use the brothers as his assistants, sending them to fetch his tools and building materials, a chore that earned them the nicknames Hammer and Spyker (hammer and nail).
Originally from the Eastern Cape, the boys’ uncle brought them to Plett just before they reached high-school-going age.
“We were living in a pretty rough part of Port Elizabeth,” says Ryan. “My uncle was worried that we’d be affected by the gangs there, so he brought us here to Plett so that we could grow up in a safer environment.”
Based in Wittedrift outside Plett, the brothers then attended Plett Secondary School, with Riaan matriculating in 2015 and Ryan following him in 2016.
Riaan, the older of the two, is a driver’s assistant. It’s his responsibility to help the driver during deliveries and collections. Often this means dealing with the clients while the driver stays in the truck, a duty that Riaan enjoys.
“I get to meet lots of interesting people and I have to deal with their queries and resolve any problems,” says Riaan seriously, but his eyes light up as he adds with a smile, “Plus I get to visit some amazing places on our trips!”
Younger brother Ryan is based at the Robberg Fine Foods premises. He’s a general worker, cleaning fish and performing various duties around the factory. But his favourite job is setting up and tending to the ice display in ‘The Store‘, Robberg’s on-site shop for retail customers.
“Since coming to work at Robberg I’ve learned so much about all the different kinds of fish,” says Ryan. “I’m left-handed, but scaling fish is hard work, so I’ve learned to do it with my right hand too. When my one hand gets tired, I can switch and carry on cleaning fish with the other. This has helped me to use my right hand for a lot of other tasks as well, so I feel like it has added a new skill to my life.”
Family members with goals
Riaan has ambitions in the company. “I want to become a driver. I’m studying for my learner’s license now. I also want to be able to operate the forklift, and the Bendi.” The Bendi is an articulated forklift which can operate in tight spaces but requires great skill. “It’s basically like reversing a trailer, but forwards,” says Riaan, “and then lifting the load 12½ meters above your head!”
Ryan also wants to get his code 10 license, and his PDP (Professional Driving Permit). But he has another dream he wants to pursue, one that will result in him leaving the Robberg family. “I have applied to join the police force,” says Ryan with a smile. “I’ve always wanted to protect people from criminals, and this is how I can achieve that. I want to be able to defend myself too, if needed, and I’d like to help the people in my community to have safer lives.”
Of the 80-odd people employed by Robberg Fine Foods, around 26 of them are related. “It’s not nepotism,” jokes CEO Blaine Dodds. “You don’t need to be a relative of anyone’s to be employed at Robberg, but once you join the company, you’re part of the Robberg family forever.”
Words and photos: Brendon Morris
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Robberg Fine Foods