Chef Hilde-lee Olivier on Her Sandwich Era & Toebroodjie

Words: Robyn Samuels

Pastrami Sami, Smoked Brisket, or even the divisive Egg Mayo – nothing says ‘love’ like a ‘lekker toebroodjie’ wrapped and ready to go. We catch up with Toebroodjie chef-owner, Hilde-lee Olivier, one month after the sandwich shop opened its doors. She shares the secret for making the perfect ‘toebie’ and the inspiration behind the ever-rotating menu.

‘n Lekker Toebroodjie!

Located in the bustling metropolis of Stellenbosch, Toebroodjie is a visual representation of Hilde-lee’s upbringing. Though side menu items like ‘Jou Ma Se Aromat’ and ‘Chip Broodjie’ are a nod to Olivier’s Afrikaans heritage, the main menu is a culmination of her personal taste and travels. Inspired by a trip to Asia, she decided to use Shokupan (Japanese milk bread), instead of the usual palate-scraping suspects (ciabatta and sourdough) for her sandwich creations.

Previously the address of Jardine Restaurant, the space has transformed into a laid-back locale, attracting students and sandwich lovers alike. Quirky installations like Tazo collections, Lego art and Bollie comic strips for wallpaper, give visitors a peek into the chef’s childhood and her playful nature. We ask Hilde-lee about her shift from working in fine dining restaurants like Delaire, Indochine and Jardine, to starting her own sandwich joint.

 Having worked in fine dining, why open a sandwich shop?

Fine dining is very restrictive – the people, the politics. I wanted to break through that, and decided to not take myself so seriously or stress too much about everything. Ultimately, I just wanted to try something different and cook food that I like…

It’s been a challenge, but a good one.

 What’s been the best and most challenging part?

The best would be the feedback, the people. The most challenging part is starting your own business and having the responsibility of salaries and staff. Obviously, this is a whole new concept and every day brings new problems, but that’s a good thing.

When you do fine dining, it’s about presentation and suppliers and everything; with this, you have to think of packaging, social media and takeaways. I mean, a sandwich is a sandwich, but it needs to be the best sandwich, or else, it’s something you can do at home.

 We love the vibe of the restaurant; it’s a great place to hang out with friends. What inspired the overall concept?

I took a lot of the old Jardine, but also wanted three different rooms for different vibes, just to bring in different crowds and people. A lot of it is also based on stuff I grew up with, so the Legos, Tazos and the Bollie comics used as wallpaper in the bathrooms.

I wanted to bring back memories and create a place where people can still have fun without trying too hard to be something that we’re not. There are different things in one place; instead of just having a restaurant and being restricted to that, you can come chill, have a snack or beer, play games and visit the shop.

The menu differs from what you’d find at a typical sandwich joint. What inspired it?

Creating the menu was a process from the beginning and we’re still trying to refine it. We’ve only been open for just over one month and it has already changed a lot.

The side menu is a play on Afrikaans and includes stuff you won’t really find at a typical restaurant. But, once again, we’re not taking ourselves seriously. It’s something you wanna eat at home; it’s not dressed up or anything. If it is on the menu, it’s like that on the plate, which also offers a lot of freedom in creating.

The menu includes classics like Pastrami Sami, Smoked Brisket and Egg Mayo. Were these inspired by travels or personal taste?

The Egg Mayo was definitely inspired by travels. I went to Japan and got an egg mayo sandwich from the convenience store, and it was one of the best things I’ve had in my life. People ask me, ‘What’s the best thing about Japan?’, and I’ll say, ‘The egg mayo’ – depressing but true. It’s soft and beautiful, so that’s the first thing I wanted to put on the menu. Egg mayo is a hit-and-miss, either you love or hate it. I think people who hate it haven’t had a proper one, so I’m here to change the world with my egg mayo.

Apart from that, social media inspires a lot of what we do. You see something that looks good and you’re like, ‘Great, but I want that on a sandwich’.

The kitchen makes fresh Shokupan bread daily; why did you choose to use this type of bread instead of the usual suspects?

Shokupan (Japanese milk bread) is just soft and delicious. It also doesn’t hurt you on ‘verhemelte’ (the palate), which is what you want from a sandwich. Even the next day, it makes the best toast; you can’t go wrong with it. I didn’t want to go with ciabatta or sourdough, everyone does it. Enough of the crunchy toast; I want a soft, easy toast.

I bet your school lunchboxes were epic. Were other kids jealous?

No, I actually grew up a very lazy child. On my off days, I’m very lazy as well. I’m like the worst chef; if you ask me what I eat on my off days, it’s a cheese toastie. I can’t be bothered to make food at home as well. My mom is also a hospitality teacher, so she would say, ‘If you want it, make it’, and I was too lazy. So, my lunchboxes were more taken from everyone else, and I traded my personality with other kids. Yeah, it was more of a give-and-take situation.

Why should people visit Toebroodjie?

Just to enjoy the vibes and the food; take it for what it is and have a good time. That’s all we want. I think it’s nice for the staff if people are enjoying themselves as well. Obviously, it’s work, but you don’t want to come in every day and worry about people. So, that’s part of what we are trying to achieve – creating a work environment that’s easy for everyone.

Why set up shop in Stellenbosch?

I mean, I’ve worked here for the last 11-12 years; it’s been part of me, and I live here and I know the people. There’s definitely also a big Afrikaans community and people appreciate it, which is fun. Plus, it’s a student town, so I think it’s a good mark for them.

It’s something you wanna eat at home; it’s not dressed up or anything. If it is on the menu, it’s like that on the plate…

What’s the secret to making a sexy sandwich?

You know, that’s a tough question… firstly, I think it’s looks, ’cause people eat with their eyes first, then it’s about making it juicy and flavourful; getting all the components in there – the sweet, the sour, the soft, the toast, the cheese.

There’s a new menu loading, what can people expect?

We play around with new menus every day, and see what it is that people want and like. So, we’re trying to bring in a bit more of a bar-snacky vibe and just have a quick bite. People don’t really sit down to enjoy a sandwich for half an hour, otherwise, you’ll get destroyed!

  Do you have any advice for any aspiring chefs in the industry?

Work hard. Everyone always says that hard work pays off, and it will.

Also, choose your people well. It’s going to be difficult, but if you choose the right people, they will eventually help you be where you want to be. That’s definitely why I am where I am.

Before we go, we have to ask: favourite sandwich topping?

Oof, it sounds horrible, but a cheese toastie is life.

For more information about Toebroodjie, follow them on Instagram.

1 Andringa St, Stellenbosch Central, Stellenbosch | Wed-Sun: 10h00–19h00 | 066 272 4648

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