When she left school, Sarah-Marie Snyman vowed two things. One was that she would never work in a restaurant again, and the other was that she would certainly never move back to the Slowveld.

Fmous last words, as they say. Happily settled back here, Sarah-Marie has owned the popular craft bar and restaurant Cicada in Mbombela for the past 16 years, and can’t think of a better place to live than the beautiful Lowveld. “I always wanted to be an archaeologist,” she explains. “Let’s just say that would not have ended well for me. With age, I have realised khaki is not my best colour, the sun is not my friend and I don’t particularly enjoy getting dirty and dusty. I blame my lapse in judgement on Indiana Jones,” she laughs.

Sarah-Marie Snyman

Growing up, Sarah-Marie’s parents owned the local Spur, and she and her brothers had to work weekends for pocket money. “Being blessed with hard-working folks who made sure that all their children focused on entrepreneurial skills has been the biggest influence in my life,” she says thoughtfully. “Having to work over weekends was one of the best things they could have done for me. It should be compulsory for children to work a few hours in  customer service. The world would be a kinder, more patient place.”

When she’s not creating new and exciting seasonal recipes for Cicada (at the moment it’s strawberry-inspired sushi rolls because it’s strawberry season), she’s designing beautiful
spaces with flowers, explaining that their small details and textures are so amazing. “Flowers bring joy, and it’s so special to play a small part in someone’s big celebration. On the flip side, they can also soothe and remind us of life’s beauty in sad times. I love colour, and putting together unexpected combinations brings me so much pleasure. I also cook to relax,” she adds, “but I’m not a big fan of kitchen gadgets. I find it therapeutic to chop and dice and create. Food is my love language and I enjoy feeding my loved ones.”

While running a restaurant and working with flowers might seem like occupations worlds  apart, Sarah-Marie explains that they do have a few things in common. For one thing, they
are both creative and high-pressure occupations. “It takes careful planning with the  backing of an amazing team of staff to pull off big events/flowers/running a restaurant. You are only as good as your team, and I have an amazing one that I can trust.”

Sarah-Marie’s guilty pleasure is collecting art, to which her chock-full walls are a testament. “Art gives me immense joy,” she says, “I love to look at all of mine, which I do on a daily
basis. I also enjoy thrifting, and most of the items in my home have a story behind them. My dad loves auctions, and we’ve joined him in the hunt for treasure since we were  children! I also love to read, even though I don’t get as much time anymore. I’ve always been a bookworm, and some of my best childhood memories include visits to the Mbombela library, but these days I prefer to support the SPCA and buy most of my books from their shop at Village SPAR. It’s affordable, helps the animals in need and gives unused books another lease on life.”

Sarah-Marie and her son, Phillip

A love of art seems to have rubbed off on Sarah-Marie’s young son, Phillip (8), who loves outings to the art gallery and has his own budding collection of art on his bedroom walls. “I hope that he will always continue to notice the beauty in everyday life,” she says. “Phillip also loves to eat and has a very healthy appetite. Don’t think he will settle for instant noodles or chicken strips!” she laughs. “Once a week we have a cooking lesson at home. I believe everyone should know the basics of food prep. Food brings people together. I’ve found that if you have a home filled with it, you often end up with a home filled with loved ones … and I love having Phillip’s friends over. Apparently, I make the best toasted cheese sandwiches (of all  the food in the world, this is what I am now known for!). And before you ask – yes, I am a feeder!”

Sarah-Marie describes herself as a homebody, explaining that her perfect weekend off  would be spent with her family, and cooking and planning the menu together is half of
the fun. One of her favourite things about the Lowveld is the produce, and she laughingly says you could bribe her with avos and macadamias. “There are so many things I love about the region,” she adds, “the people and the sense of community, and the natural beauty all around us that we are fortunate enough to have right on our doorstep.”

The leggy brunette adds that she also loves sleeping in on a Sunday and rarely stays awake after 8pm; she loves sleep too much to stay up late. Inspired by friends, she  adds that as
so many of them are business owners, she is able to bounce ideas off them, people who, like so many these days, are hustling every day to balance work and family life. “One of the most important things I’ve learnt in life,” she says, “is to always be kind. You don’t know with what other people might be dealing. Sometimes the smallest gesture or a friendly  greeting can change someone’s day for the better.”

She thoughtfully picks up an anemone, one of her favourite flowers, and smiles. “Look how perfect it is,” she says, “such a beautiful, simple thing.” This vibrant woman believes in celebrating the everyday, in living in the here and now. Her advice is to create a life you don’t need to or want to escape from, a life filled with colour and joy, and of course, flowers.

Photographer: Belinda Erasmus of Belle-Grace Photography
Make-up: Elsabé Steyn of Elsabé Steyn Styling Studio
Flowers: Yvette Marais of LetLove Flowers
Venue: Cicada Craft Bar, Mbombela