written by Andrew Brouard
It takes a village to raise a cake, I discovered recently. The Village Fair is more than just a cake and gift shop; it’s the nexus of a community of bakers, artists and artisans, invisible lines stretching from their homes, kitchens and studios to one point on the map, shop no 6 in the Village Green centre on Greenway.
As a resident of 15 years in Greenside, I’ve always admired the Village Fair. Pure class, I’ve thought. Nothing there that is not tasteful, exquisite, bewitching and yet entirely affordable. Maybe it was time to take a closer look, I thought, find the backstory and peek behind the scenes.
In an interview with the co-owner, Vivienne Stokes, I learnt that Jan Simms opened the shop 22 years ago in Parkhurst before moving it later to Greenside. Two decades of “Memories,” says Vivienne. “We’ve been to funerals of long-time customers. And customers whom we made cakes for as children now come in for their 21st birthdays.” You know you’re good when your toothsome choc chip cake has so lingered in the imaginations of children that they’re returning for more a decade and a half later, ready for another palate-pleasing feast.
None of this happened by accident. Over the years Vivienne and Jan have carefully recruited a cast of talented individuals who produce cakes and gifts that meet their high standards. There’s Lisa Dawson’s BUG range of baby clothes, local artists Ann Judith Harris-Deppe and Petra Gevers’s range of beautiful cards (at R20 much cheaper than the screaming ones sold at Cardies), and others who make jewellery, objects, gifts and biscuits. And of course cakes – lots of cakes.
The focus is quality, not quantity. You won’t find every kind of confectionery here, but you will get something special. Something, for example, that casts a large, oozing chocolate shadow in the fridge: the Moist Dark Choc Fudge priced at R130. A team of three bakers makes this cake and only this one, which speaks to the approach and success of the Village Fair as well. (And should you need a bespoke cake, your needs will be matched with the right baker.)
Interestingly, the style of cakes has changed over time. “80s cakes had lots of piped icing and caramel, and were more ornate and formally styled whereas today’s cakes have a freer design and less icing,” says Vivienne. That’s why customers today are less likely to buy a Black Forest cake and more likely to walk out with a vanilla lemon cake. I know the latter oh too well. It’s a soft bed of aerated bronze sponge gilded with a thin crust of delicate icing. Sink your teeth into it and hear the velvet textures murmur over your tongue.
In a world of pop-up bars and modish food concepts, there is something consoling and consistent about the Village Fair. To know that there is somewhere local you can go, staffed by familiar faces, evolving organically over time, is a comforting feeling in an unpredictable world. Let’s salute Vivienne Stokes and Jan Simms for producing such a Greenside Gem.
Village Fair Cake and Gift Shop
Village Green shopping centre 125 Greenway
011 486 0531
Monday – Saturday : 9am–6pm