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Thursday Jan 03, 2013

Good coffee gets a grounding in Cape township

Lately, visitors to the busy business hub next to Khayelitsha station have been greeted by the distinctive aroma of good coffee.

Three young entrepreneurs, Vuyile Msaku, Vusumzi Mamile and Wongama Balen, in their Department of Coffee, Khayelitsha.

Behind the inviting aroma are three childhood friends - a former barista, a towel factory worker and a fireman - who have been hard at work brewing up anything from a cappuccino to a foamy latte.

Situated at the Urban Upgrading precinct, Department of Coffee is setting a trend as one of the first coffee shops in the city's townships.

Wongama Baleni, Vuyile Msaku, and Vusumzi Mamile, all in their early 20s, are determined to prove that townships are ready to compete in the coffee scene.

The friends were inspired after taking part in a meditation and life skills class in Khayelitsha started by a nonprofit company called Connect Community Development (CCD). The class encouraged them to aspire to reach their full potential, said Baleni. The trio gave up their steady jobs to follow their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs.

The Department of Coffee, which opened in July last year, is a pilot project of a job creation organisation called the Ministry of Service Delivery (MoSD) - comprising a group of local businessmen who came together to practise a hands-on approach to job creation by facilitating business connections, training and by providing start-up funding to underprivileged young entrepreneurs.

Murray Ingram, CCD, helped smooth the progress between the Department of Coffee and MoSD. He also assisted them in securing their current retail space. CCD helps people in poorer communities access the resources necessary to kick-start their business ventures.

Ingram met Baleni, Msaku and Mamile three years ago during their life skills class. "They approached me with an idea and it grew from there. We're in the process of helping a number of young people to implement their ideas," said Ingram

Baleni explained that they were drawn together by their "hustling" spirit. "We've always been involved in business, from selling meat to anything that will make us money."

It took them about three years of planning and sourcing funding to get the Department of Coffee up and running. "The equipment was expensive and at times we felt like giving up. My family couldn't understand at first how we were going to make a decent income selling coffee... but we kept going," said Baleni

Thanks to former barista Msaku, who has worked in some fine coffee establishments, honing their coffeemaking skills was a breeze. Department of Coffee offers espresso-based coffees, tea, hot chocolate, muffins, and freshly squeezed fruit juices. They also sell coffee beans especially roasted and blended just for them, and branded caps and T-shirts. Their price range is R7 to R8.50.

Mamile said the group distributes tasks equally. "Running your business is different from working for someone. You pay extra attention to things to prevent wastage, even spilled sugar is taking money from your pocket." He added that their busiest time was in the morning when commuters were on their way to work.

The coffee house also does regular morning deliveries to Khayelitsha Magistrate Court, hospital and mall.

The Department of Economic Development and Tourism has launched the Provincial Entrepreneurship Recognition Awards, which will act as a "SMME support programme" that will focus on promoting entrepreneurship in the Western Cape.

Nominations are open in the categories emerging business, best innovative student idea, established business, social enterprise and export business.

Information at

Cape Times

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