Two taxi commuters who went on to become friends and tenacious business partners selling gourmet cuisine out of a food truck.
Look right, look left. You may well be sitting next to your future business partner.
That’s what happened to Hezron Louw, the Johannesburg-based co-founder of Sumting Fresh, on one of his taxi commutes years ago, and one that set him off on another journey altogether in a food truck.
“I met this guy in the taxi. And he was reading a magazine about cakes and we started talking about cakes. And every day for about two and half years, we would meet in the same taxi line and we would talk about food,” recounts Louw, when we meet him at Grant Avenue, a trendy street in the garden suburb of Norwood in Johannesburg.
This is where Sumting Fresh is rustling up and selling taste. The gourmet food company also sells out of a food truck at Johannesburg’s vibrant food markets.
The guy Louw met in the taxi, chef Andrew Leeuw, would go on to found Sumting Fresh with him in 2012. But before that, the friends-turned-business partners had hurdles and hiccups to overcome.
“We had 12 years apart in between before we saw each other again,” says Louw, the self-taught chef and media personality.
Louw and Leeuw grew up in the suburb of Ennerdale four blocks from each other but never met until the day destiny connected them at the taxi rank.
They were students at the time – Louw was studying for a BCom in accounting while Leeuw was studying to become a chef.
Though Louw dropped out of his course to work in the banking sector, Leeuw completed his studies and worked at resorts.
The common ground in their friendship was their deep, abiding love for food.
“One day, I was driving down the road with my brother and I see Andrew. I shout ‘hey my guy’, he shouts ‘hey my guy’. We had forgotten each other’s names,” he says.
They went to have a beer and three months later, Sumting Fresh was born with merely no capital.
“We had a trailer and we would use my brother’s VW Golf to pull it… We were situated at Becker Street in Midrand for about two years,” says Louw.
Armed with no market research, the risk-takers parked their vehicle there in the hope of one day luring enough clients and becoming successful.
Besides their love for gastronomy, all they had between them was R20,000 ($1, 366) and some pots and pans they received from family.
Reality kicked in soon after.
“Yho! It was dismal,” exclaims Louw.
They were selling lunch to middle-income employees for R35 – R50 ($2 – $3) per meal at the time, and their cost price was also as much. They weren’t making any profit.
“Here we were out on the streets selling expensive food at low prices. Our business was a complete loss. Sometimes we would split R175 ($12),” says Louw, reminiscing the cash-strapped days.
Fortunately, they had a support system at home including family members and partners.
“I was literally a working poor person. I was extremely poor!” says Louw.
Things got worse. Both co-founders had children and families to look after.
“The business was on its knees, we couldn’t afford milk, nappies [for the children]; we just couldn’t afford anything.”
But the ambition to succeed was strong.
“What was very fortunate was Andrew and I are very optimistic people. We always knew we wanted Sumting Fresh to work. Even though the situation was depressing and hard, when he was down, I would pick him up, when I was down, he would pick me up,” says Louw.
As they leaned on each other, they learned determination.
“The main reason our business is still around is persistence. We would knock on doors and we would insist on getting customers.
“What a lot of entrepreneurs always miss out on is that they always paint the perfect picture [of their business]. They go out and tell how great things are and how great their businesses are. Then people [potential investors] think ‘why do you need my help’?” says Louw.
Their fortunes changed after an encounter with South African entrepreneur Miles Kubheka, the founder of Vuyo’s selling modern African cuisine.
“He used to have a restaurant in Braamfontein. He was driving past, and tasted our chicken wings,” says Louw.
Kubheka was impressed and approached them to work for him. They kept declining.
“We would say ‘no, we can’t’, we are living our dream. He came every day for three months and offered us a job and money so we would quit Sumting Fresh… But this one day, we were so broke we couldn’t anymore,” says Louw.
They shut the trailer and became employees.
“It was great, there was fire and they would tell us at 1 o’clock, it’s lunchtime.”
It took just three days for them to quit because the feeling of working for someone was “strange”.
This time, their return to business would change their financial fortunes.
“Now you are charged up and you see what is possible… [working for Vuyo’s] was a motivation to push us,” he says. The pair continued to work for Kubheka at Fourways Farmers Market on Sundays, until the idea came to also sell on their own at the food market.
It took three months until they received approval to sell their fried chicken strips with cheese. They were soon shoveling money with a bucket yet it had a hole in it.
They made money at the market and lost it all at Becker’s Street during the week, until they decided to close the store. But this was the beginning of new ideas and business opportunities. They expanded to the Neighbourgoods Market, where they met customers from all spheres of life.
“Where we are from, where we started and what we planned for our business is completely different. We thought we would be street food giants. It took us so long to open our eyes and see that,” says Louw.
They took on corporate clients and yet again made the mistake of expanding when not ready.
“Chasing the money can cost you money… that is one thing we need to learn as entrepreneurs. Not every customer is your customer,” he says.
Sumting Fresh finally found its niche.
It now turns over R6 million ($410,033) annually compared to the R600 ($41) monthly profit seven years ago.
They have parked their food trailers at festivals such as the Bushfire Festival in Swaziland, the OppiKoppi music festival in South Africa, and cater for private parties and corporate companies, in addition to running the restaurant in Johannesburg.
Louw is currently one of the judges for the Standard Bank campaign, My Fearless Next, encouraging budding entrepreneurs to turn their side hustles into their main businesses.
The founders of Sumting Fresh have shown how good company and good food can eventually spice up the bottom line.
The Bolt And The Beautiful
From cheers on the track and field to cheers of a different kind, Jamaican sprinting champion Usain Bolt was in South Africa recently to launch his signature champagne.
Widely considered the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, the nine-time Olympic gold medalist who has broken records, is now breaking new ground in the business world.
He was in South Africa in January to launch a limited edition champagne in collaboration with champagne producer G.H. Mumm.
Having graced some of the world’s biggest Olympic stadiums, the retired Jamaican sprinter was at the swanky The Maslow hotel in Johannesburg, promoting the pink bubbly as it poured endlessly into fluted glasses.
As the $45 Mumm Olympe Rosé bottle was being passed around, all attention was on the world champion.
“In Jamaica, we do this naturally; we mix cognac with champagne, and it’s something I enjoy. So when we sat down in the first meeting and we were trying to figure out what direction we wanted to go with for the bottle and with the drink, I mentioned it and asked ‘is it possible?’ and they said ‘yes’. So for me, that was something I was happy about. When you taste it, you’ll taste the cognac and together it’s very nice, trust me,” Bolt tells FORBES AFRICA, aptly marketing his product.
The A-list sports star poses with two bottles, symbolic of the two years it took to create what he calls a premium drink.
G. H. Mumm’s Senior Global Brand Manager, Etienne Cassuto, says collaborations of this magnitude have to be a reflection of authenticity and teamwork.
“This is not something we created and said ‘great, put your name on it, sign it and we sell it’; he created this wine with us and that is why it is something that is truly collaborative and that is where some brands get it wrong,” he says.
“It took a long time to really get to know Usain Bolt… as an athlete, as someone who has broken records and who has surpassed everything in life to get to where he is today. This desire to partner with Usain Bolt, who is now a retired athlete but still pushing the limit to what he can achieve and really daring himself to go beyond to find his next victory… that is why since 2016, we have been collaborating to try and understand how we can build something in common.”
Bolt, who retired from athletics in 2017, has since pursued a career in football; he decided to hang up his boots in 2018.
His short-lived football career saw him play for Central Coast Mariners, and train in South Africa with Mamelodi Sundowns F.C.
The Olympic sprint champion says athletes should focus on building a brand beyond the track.
“In sports, I was always trying to be the best and do things that have never been done before, it is the same thing in business. You have to find things that no one has done before… As athletes, you should focus on trying to build your brand. Try to work hard and try to develop a personality.
“I think I get sponsorships because I have a personality. I am different, and I stand out. Develop a personality, a brand that people know, this is Bolt, this is Simbine, this is Wayde. I always tell Wayde ‘it is good to be fast and to be great, but if you want to build your brand you have to show your personality’. People will want you to be a part of their brand’,” he tells us.
Akani Simbine and Wayde van Niekerk are South African athletes.
And Bolt loves South Africa. “When they called and told me we are launching in South Africa, I was happy. Last year, I had so much fun. The energy was different. It felt like home because this is the only place I have been to that I have danced so much. In Jamaica, we dance a lot, but in Africa, you guys dance. A lot!” he says joyfully.
The whole vibe is that of celebration.
“Africa is an exciting market for champagne. African consumers want more premium goods; they want to really discover new things, new products, new categories and they want to spend a little more to discover high-quality products, whether it is luxury or premium goods,” adds Cassuto.
South Africa’s affluent market is no different, and Bolt attests to that – the man fast on the track and faster with his soundbites.
This Bioengineering Startup Just Raised $90 Million To Make Your Veggie Burger Taste Better
One of the ag tech world’s few unicorns is spinning off a new food ingredients company called Motif Ingredients with a $90 million Series A.
Motif will leverage intellectual property and facilities from its parent company Ginkgo Bioworks, which was last valued in 2017 at $1.38 billion, when it raised a $275 million Series D. Gingko is known for the ability to rapidly produce DNA for applications from microbes that replace fertilizer to ones that produce perfume fragrances.
At Motif, that technology will be inserted into yeast cells. The yeast is then fermented, as in beer brewing, except that instead of producing alcohol, the yeast creates whatever by-product Motif’s customers want.
These ingredients can be customized to mimic flavors or textures similar to those found in protein products like beef and dairy—a potential game-changer for the budding industry of plant-based foods, which has seen everything from burgers to cheese alternatives gain popularity in recent years.
READ MORE | The Foodies With A Drive For Business
Take Impossible Foods, backed by top investors from Bill Gates to GV. Its soy-and-vegetable-based burger still bleeds like the traditional beef version because of an added ingredient called heme, a molecule found in nearly all living plants and animals.
Impossible’s products rely on this ingredient, which is hard to source. But, as Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks cofounder and CEO says, Impossible doesn’t manufacture its own heme in-house. And that’s where labs like Motif come in.
“Instead of making another Impossible, we’ll be an ingredient supplier. We’ll supply the Impossible nugget or the egg-free whatever. There are many people who have branding and food development expertise who’d love to make new products in this space, but only a handful have the funding to do,” says Kelly.
“We’re focused on what you’d add to the existing supply chain to make it better. All these companies need it to make a veggie fish stick that tastes good.”
Motif investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Louis Dreyfus Cos., Fonterra and Viking Global Investors.
Ginkgo Bioworks was first founded in 2008, based largely on research developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by scientist Tom Knight, one of the company’s cofounders who came to biology after decades of work as a computer scientist. Knight’s philosophy of synthetic biology is to treat it as akin to computer programming, and Kelly sees his company as being a biological programmer.
“We’re like app developers writing a microbial app,” he said. “And our customers come to us and say, ‘Hey can you make me an app that does this?’”
This is Ginkgo’s second spin-off. In 2017, Ginkgo formed a joint venture with Bayer called Joyn Bio, which leverages the company’s assets and IP to create microbes that can replace or supplement fertilizer for different crops.
That company kicked off with a $100 million Series A round with investments from its parent companies and Viking Global Investors LP.
Similarly, Kelly sees Motif as a company that will operate in the same way for food ingredients, and he expects that as Ginkgo grows, it will spin out others. “We want to keep, in many, many verticals, popping business up that have access to our platform and ask for specs in different markets.”
-Chloe Sorvino and Alex Knapp; Forbes Staff
Handcrafted In A Cottage, Bottled For The Globe
The sisters had no idea their love for healthy food would catapult them into the international food market.
Siblings and foodies Mosibudi Makgato and Rosemary Padi grew up in a yard filled with fruits and vegetables in South Africa and with a mother who could rustle up any healthy dish using produce from the garden.
It was only natural that they started a catering business as a hobby in 2003.
The growing interest from customers drove the business to become a success until recession hit in 2008. The demand for catering decreased because people had less money to spend. However, the wedding season would always bring more customers for the sisters.
That avenue led to the birth of an idea – to develop an authentic South African drink known in some black communities as gemmer, which is commonly known as ginger beer.
“We catered at a wedding and guests kept saying it would be nice to have gemmer. We did the gemmer and people were raving about it more than the food. From the response we got, we thought this would be a nice way to push it into the industry,” Makgato recalls.
With the help and advice of their mother, the sisters did numerous tests and were impressed with the 18-day shelf life of their product. The pair decided to introduce the beverage at a contact’s shop that sold scones – Vero’s Cakes in the north of Johannesburg.
“Gemmer and scones go well together,” 37-year-old Makgato says.
Business was initially slow. They would deliver bottles at the Vero’s Cake store and two weeks later, the spoiled drinks would have to be replaced because they were not sold. This led to them hosting tastings for market research. As a result, they were able to establish that some people had bad experiences with gemmer in their childhood.
The duo went back to the drawing board, and worked on changing the perceptions of people and assuring them that they don’t use yeast in their product compared to the traditional way of making the drink. This was a healthier alternative and it was African, which meant it did not contain preservatives, Makgato says.
“We would set up a table, put cups, serve people at weddings and funerals and have conversations about gemmer with guests or attendees. We would invite ourselves to women’s gatherings, ask to be guest speakers and educate people about food, in general, because we are from a green-fingered family.”
In 2010, the sisters left catering completely to focus on the beloved South African drink. They registered their company as Yamama Gemmer after they had mastered their mother’s lessons on how to brew gemmer.
In just two years, people bought bottles without questioning and business was growing. They made enough money to buy their own double-door fridge instead of using the one at Vero’s.
The business finally had assets, at this time, Makgato and Padi were producing from a cottage in Randpark Ridge, about 33kms north of Johannesburg’s Central Business District. The cottage was once a storage facility and kitchen. Now, it has evolved into a factory filled with gas stoves and pots leftover from the catering business.
“In 2013, things were becoming busy; I would always have stock with me, I would go to functions and sell from the boot of my car, and would have to meet people who wanted to buy at petrol stations. People were talking about it. Gemmer was becoming a thing. In 2014, Rosemary left her high-paying position in banking to do gemmer,” Makgato says.
While Padi focused more on the business, it boomed further and they moved to certified premises, with a full-time employee at the store.
“When customers come in, I explain everything about gemmer. Customers are very happy, especially after the first introduction to it, even those that know ginger beer are happy with our product,” says Lynette Seleke, who has been working for the sisters for two years now.
The sister duo has also established distribution channels, reselling throughout Gauteng. Managing stock at Vero’s Cakes was becoming a challenge, so they opened a store in the same area in 2016, located not far from a restaurant selling African cuisine.
“Every year, we almost double the previous year’s turnover since 2016,” Makgato says.
Yamama Gemme has catered at a number of international events in South Africa like the Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair, the Delicious International Food and Music Festival, and they also had a stall at the popular Neighbourgoods Market.
The appeal is in their presentation. They infuse the drink with fruits and herbs and sometimes encourage people to have it with gin or rum, turning the drink into a cocktail.
“We guarantee that you will not have a hangover because ginger beer is a rehydrate. When you have a hangover, it’s because you are dehydrated, gemmer pulls those fluids that you were missing in your body, that’s why athletes love gemmer,” she says.
Padi adds: “Over the years, the demand has morphed to include a ready-to-drink bottle.” The two have since shown interest in the international market and have rebranded, as they have qualified to export globally. They could well be on their way to becoming known as the ginger beer baronesses of Soweto.
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