The Success Stories of Steenberg: Entering a new era stronger together

Steenberg Farm is a hive of activity. Meandering along the Farm’s cobbled paths, the 165 staff complement bustle about cleaning rooms, welcoming guests, serving food, and tending gardens among the catalogue of other action items that make up the day’s agenda. The energy is warm and buoyant, and the sense of pride and camaraderie is palpable as employees flash friendly smiles and wave at each other before double-timing to their ensuing tasks.

“We have outperformed some of our best pre-Covid months,” says Steenberg Hotel & Spa’s Financial Manager, Byron Hunkin. “The growth has been tremendous given the uncertain circumstances of the past two years,” he adds.

Hunkin attributes this performance to intentional investments like collaborative approaches, diversifying offerings, and reimagining spaces. For example, transforming Bistro Sixteen82 and Tryn Restaurant into meetings, events, and private dining spaces. These are just a few factors that place Steenberg Hotel & Spa among industry leaders.

From these changes, Steenberg Hotel & Spa managed to grow its South African clientele over the last year to make up 35% of its total revenue – a remarkable feat considering we are a predominantly international traveller business.

“Over the last two years, we were able to roll out a multitude of improvements, increase our demand, and grow our team – and an absolute credit to them [the Steenberg team] for what Steenberg has achieved. We have ploughed a vast land together,” says Managing Director of Hospitality, Catherine Schulze.  

While environmental investments like refurbishments and restructuring all play an essential role in driving business growth, so too does Steenberg Hotel & Spa’s human investment, which is precisely what Schulze’s comment points to. One cannot help but be struck by the realisation that the 300-hectare farm Steenberg is its people and their ability to grow together.

“The people make the place,” says Chantelle Brits, who began her journey at Steenberg as a runner at Tryn restaurant (Catharina’s back then) in 2009.

Over the next 13 years, Chantelle worked her way from restaurant runner, to waitress, hostess and reservationist, and, as of the beginning of 2022, Senior Reservationist and Functions Coordinator at Tryn

“I love the fact that we have such strong female leadership. From our Managing Director, Catherine Schulze, to Kerry Kilpin, our Executive Chef, it is really inspiring to have that female leadership,” Chantelle says, adding, “Throughout all the years that I have been here

[Steenberg], I feel like the team that we have now, is very strong. We build relationships. We are always here for one other. The team is our second family and our home away from home”.  

Chantelle’s progression through various positions at Steenberg Hotel & Spa is a formidable success story and testament to a company culture founded on creating an enabling environment and encouraging possibility and growth through hard teamwork. And her story is not the only one.

In the 1990s, Marlene Demas became a picker in Steenberg Farm’s vineyards. “When I started working at Steenberg, there was no golf course, and the hotel only had nine rooms! Back then, it was called The Country Hotel,” Marlene recalls.

Viticulturist and former Steenberg Vineyards General Manager in the early aughts, Herman Hanekom, recognised Marlene’s keen eye for detail and asked her to move into a housekeeping role. Now, two decades later, Marlene is the Supervisor of Housekeeping.

Marlene says she never imagined she would be where she is today, when she first started at Steenberg. “I was a very shy girl and since working at Steenberg I have become much more confident. I am not that shy girl anymore”.

Upon relaying Chantelle and Marlene’s sentiments to Schulze, when asked to imagine what 17th-century founder Catharina Ras would say about what Steenberg has achieved and where it is now. Without hesitating, except to smile, Schulze says, “I think she would be delighted to see that there are lots of bold and determined people – especially women – in leadership positions, and I think she would say, ‘I am honoured that my spirit has continued’.”

Schulze, who has been with Steenberg Hotel & Spa for 15 years and leads with determination and a vision for infinite possibility, leaves us with a key piece of advice applicable to business and life – advice which has also had a hand in Steenberg’s hard-earned successes: “Take risks. You have to prove to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to. You’ll never realise how much you can accomplish, until you give it your best shot.”  

As you enter the Farm on Catharina Ras Avenue and absorb the magnitude of what 340 years of community, connectedness, and teamwork looks like, a particular African proverb comes to mind: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. The spirit of this adage is wholeheartedly manifested in Steenberg.

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