Car crash creates ‘devastating’ emotional scars for KZN company
Community supports shattered ‘family’ of Barn Owl restaurant
A tragic accident in which two colleagues were killed, one seriously injured and five hurt and traumatised has left the 14-member team behind KwaZulu-Natal’s Barn Owl coffee franchise reeling and its Midlands operation temporarily closed.
“We’ve been overwhelmed with love and support. At first we were hoping people would help us cover the costs of funerals and trauma counselling, but it has been bigger than that. We are already looking at long-term support for the orphaned children,” said The Barn Owl founder and owner Ryan Solomon.
“We are scrambling and organising. I don’t know when we will reopen. The Durban shop is open and we’re doing deliveries but the Midlands restaurant is closed.”
The tragedy occurred on Saturday morning. A staff member had bought a Toyota Avanza and picked up his colleagues in Howick for work. All seven were on their way to the Barn Owl restaurant on Groundcover Farm on Curry’s Post Road when the accident happened.
The car rolled off the road and staff members Mxolisi “Max” Sibisi and Noxolo “Buyi” Nkosi were thrown out of the vehicle and killed.
“It’s all a big blur. We don’t know what happened, but we have heard all kinds of things — including a reckless driver driving them off the road,” Solomon said.
The injured survivors managed to pull colleague Prince from the wreck. He was rushed to hospital with head and back injuries, and appears to be making a good recovery.
“The whole team is badly traumatised. Some are bumped and bruised, but the psychological shock of seeing your colleagues dying is a tragedy you don’t get over.”
The Barn Owl team has been a solid group since the Midlands restaurant and Durban cafe opened in 2019.
“We’re not a business. We do what we love, and when we make money we plough it back into the business. Our products speak for themselves. We don’t buy the cheapest ingredients or skimp and our customers get good service,” Solomon said.
He said he had given up corporate life and making money for a quieter, more meaningful life, “making coffee for people and doing what I love”.
Solomon started Barn Owl as a two-man gig, selling coffee from a caravan. He said the team had evolved and bonded into a family known and loved by the community.
Solomon said the restaurant was a self-build project done without big designers and architectural input. As they built and furnished the venue, they won a “Best Café Design” award from a well-known coffee magazine.
But Saturday’s crash has devastated them all, and prompted them to appeal for support.
“This devastating event has left behind small kids and elderly dependents. The surviving team members bear emotional scars and require urgent ongoing therapy and support,” they posted on their website, triggering a wave of donations.
“This is the start of a long road to recovery for the Barn Owl family of 14.
“Unfortunately we do not have the expertise to provide the level of support the team needs to heal and recover.
“To Buyi and Max, you will be sorely missed. You brought so much positive energy to our kitchen and joy to our lives.
“Prince, all we can hope for is that you make a full recovery. The whole team is rooting for you.”
The money raised will go towards supporting team members Sandile Dlamini, Ntethelelo Gumede, Zanele Zuma, Simon Patterson, Obama Mnyadi, Noxolo “Faith” Zuma, Kwanele Phillip Moyana, Ngenzeni Sokhela, Sanelisiwe “Sone” Ngubane and Ndumiso “Prince” Kubheka, as well as Buyi’s two small children.
“Since Sunday we’ve had more than 100,000 engagements on social media. The money that has come in is enough to cover psychological care, funerals and basic things.
“We have a new set of challenges and we’re able to do something special,” Solomon said.
The Durban café is manned by casuals and running as normal, while the Midlands restaurant is “open only for takeaways and chat” and its return-to-normal date not yet known.
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