Tanja Ruf: “It’s been a journey, a business plan written at school that became reality.”
Although relatively young in years, Oliver’s could be considered a White River foundation and treated with the veneration usually reserved for our pioneers. Owner Tanja recounts the early days, when Casterbridge was little more than Hans van der Merwe’s showroom and the Country Estate consisted of a handful of houses. Tanja and Oliver arrived in White River in 1998 to manage the Golf Lodge, which wasn’t nearly enough for the energetic, visionary pair so a little restaurant with seven tables popped up. Gracious hosting of some picky diners led to Oliver’s inclusion in the Top 100 Restaurants, and in December 2001 the couple built and opened their own lodge and restaurant just down the road. From there, Oliver’s has gone from strength to strength.
“Every guest that sets foot in here should enjoy the feeling of being at home,” Tanja says. “That means they should feel comfy enough to put their feet on the coffee table or fall asleep on one of the couches.”
Tanja’s personal style is warm and comfortable. She’s a country girl at heart, unpretentious but sincere in her efforts to give personalised service and mouth-watering food in a homely environment. Not that ‘homely’ is how many would describe the elegant, tasteful décor that warmly welcomes guests.
The step up from a seven table bistro to a 100 seater luxury restaurant and lodge was huge and every day brought new challenges. Tanja describes it as a constantly evolving project as one thing led to another – they had a big restaurant and enough space to add on some guest rooms, then a friend’s suggestion led to the wellness centre and a revamp in 2013 has grown the lodge to 38 beds, which she says runs at almost 70% occupancy. And with all of this to run, she manages events at Oliver’s as well – the annual Christmas, Easter and Valentine occasions which locals swear by. Oliver’s is where many celebrate special moments, and the guests are split evenly between locals and tourists, testament to its distinctive aura of a luxe spoil.