The birth of a business!
Sometimes life gives us lemons. So many of us left South Africa feeling robbed of our futures, our past, our identity. For others of us, especially the younger ones, while leaving was painful, it was also an adventure, one not to be missed.
Unlike our New Zealand and Australian counterparts, young South Africans were not encouraged to embark on the great OE (Overseas Experience).
For Johannes Breytenbach making the decision to leave South Africa at the tender age of 23 came easy. He saw moving to New Zealand as an adventure, an opportunity not to be missed. A Law graduate; he never would've suspected how bittersweet the future could be!
Four and a half adventure-filled years in New Zealand proved to be a successful endeavour. From adventures in scuba diving, boating and business Johannes, his wife Gretel and their two-year-old son Greg set out on their next adventure to Australia.
Australia held a lot of promise. Johannes successfully set up a training company and started building a reputation. Business was good, life was good! Adventures in boating and scuba continued and with the added benefit of magnificent weather in Queensland, the family couldn't have been happier. They added motorbikes to their repertoire of “fun”, and Johannes found the love of his life – “flying”.
Hang-gliding was something that he had dabbled in in Durban before immigrating. It proved to be something that still appealed to him, so ten years after initially learning to fly, Johannes embraced the sport with enthusiasm. Fabulous weekends were spent at Rainbow Shores where he learned the basics. And when he had approximately 3 hours flying experience, Johannes set off to Eungella, to discover the thrill of inland flying.
“Unlike coastal flying, inland flying is far more exhilarating” he says with a grin. “Thermal hunting” is an acquired skill, and most pilots entering this arena are fairly experienced. Never one to step back from a challenge, Johannes took to inland flying like a duck to water! The skill, courage and intense concentration both physically and mentally, gave him the challenge he craved. Johannes quickly became a popular and capable pilot in his own right.
Graduating to serious flying came naturally, and weekends were now spent flying the aircurrents over Dalby, just west of Toowoomba. This kind of hang-gliding requires great commitment. Pilots are towed behind a microlite to heights of approximately 2000 feet, where they release the tie and start catching thermals. On a good day, pilots could spend up to seven hours flying at altitudes of 12 500!
It was on an excursion like any other at Dalby, that life suddenly took a turn, and handed Johannes some lemons. While coming in for a landing, the wind dropped and instead of landing smoothly, the young pilot fell at least 75 feet out of the air! Alone in the veld miles from anywhere, Johannes could not move. When he came to, he feared the worst. Hearing the accident being announced over the radio, Gretel grabbed Greg and raced to the scene.
“The paramedics arrived before I did,” she says. Johannes had fractured both humeri in identical spots. The surgery lasted five hours and the surgeon stated that it was one of the most difficult procedures he had ever performed. Recovery would be slow.
So much for designing computer based training systems! His physio told Johannes that should he sit in front of a computer his elbow joints would atrophy. He was advised to do several excruciatingly painful exercises, which included one “as though he were making dough”.
Johannes' recovery proved to be the quickest that his physio had ever seen. With all the dough making, Johannes being everresourceful thought, “what can I make with the dough?” Koeksisters were the logical answer! “Number one, he has a very sweet tooth, and number two, they were very hard to find!” says Gretel. And that ladies and gentlemen, is how the Koeksister King was born!
Dishing out these koeksisters to friends and family became a regular occurrence. “They were so good, that everyone advised us to start selling them!” Johannes says enthusiastically. Even now, he admits that there are times that he finds it hard to believe how popular the product is!
The name has a story too. Most Australians pronounce Johannes as “Your Highness”, so naturally the name was a given! What started out as a hobby quickly showed potential as serious business, and in December 2006, Koeksister King officially started producing from their com
mercial kitchen in West End. Adding to their repertoire of sweet delights, they are expanding their product range to include a new range of gourmet koeksisters! While they are keeping the process secret, there is talk of a peanut version known as “Krunchy”, the ever delightfully decadent Belgian choc-coated koeksister and a few others they're keeping tight-lipped about!
The Koeksister King has also become well known for the “best fudge on earth”! The King himself experiments and expands the product range, diligently trying and testing the product to meet his rigorous expectations.
“Our next project is to get our products into coffee shops, delis and other exclusive stores,” says Johannes.
And his favourite saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”