Brewing A Coffee Empire

Melitta Ngalonkulu
Published 5 years ago

It’s a chilly Friday morning at at Lynnwood Bridge Shopping center in Pretoria, South Africa’s capital – ideal weather to talk to Dale Mazon, the entrepreneur who makes his money selling hot cups of coffee.

We are at TriBeCa Standard, one of Mazon’s 125 coffee shops in South Africa that make around $75 million a year.

The shop is buzzing and the waiters, in beige chinos, checkered shirts and navy cardigans, are kept on their toes. As we walk towards Mazon, he has a smile on his face. But it’s a smile that didn’t come easily; it was earned through blood, sweat and sleepless nights.

“I used to sleep in the shop. I had no waiter. I couldn’t afford to hire a waiter. So, I just kept doing it on my own and I kept my own tips,” chuckles Mazon, as he recalls how he started TriBeCa with his Co-Founder Martin Fitzgerald.

Mazon, from Seattle, in the United States, moved to South Africa after completing his studies at a hotel school in Switzerland.

“The coffee was shockingly bad,” is what he thought of the first cup he tasted in South Africa. That unbearable coffee triggered his dream to open his own coffee shop.

“I went in full force. I was 24 at the time. I decided that I was going to come into South Africa and make it an adventure. When I moved here I only had $300, so I had nothing. I started very simple. A friend of mine I worked with at hotel school borrowed $50,000 from his brother and that is how we started the business and everything was built from there,” says Mazon.

Though his journey has not been easy, he has managed his coffee shop business for 21 years and, since 2000, has helped retail giant Woolworths run their coffee shops.

The sustainability manager for TriBeCa, Matthew Carter, says they currently roast 120 tons of Arabica coffee a month. The bulk of their coffee comes from Tanzania, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

“We struggle a little bit with trying to get coffee out of the country on time. With Ethiopia, for instance, they had some political crises,” says Carter.

The industry in South Africa has boomed since the coffee drinkers shifted their tastes from instant to more authentic coffee.

“A lot of people are switching on to what we would call real coffee. They are also more interested in the story of the coffee and it has no longer just become a beverage,” he says.

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He adds that there is an increased consumption in gourmet coffee, non-espresso drinks such as cold brew, and brews from single-cup machines.

“Single capsules, such as Nespresso, are taking the lead because almost everyone has a little espresso machine at home,” says Carter.

It seems Mazon got into the right business at the right time.