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.
Masai Ujiri’s dream of harnessing untapped African talent
The President of Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, on his adoration for Africa as a continent filled with unlimited potential and talent.
The tall man in sport, Masai Ujiri, is a name in professional basketball far beyond the borders of Africa and his native Nigeria.
Born in England but having grown up in Zaria in Africa’s most populous country, Ujiri’s adoration for Africa sees him on the continent often, inspiring the youth.
“Africa is no more afraid. We are not afraid of anybody anymore. The continent is bold. The people are bold,” says Ujiri, when FORBES AFRICA meets him in Johannesburg in November at the Africa Investment Forum in which he participated.
The continent has a special place in his heart.
The President of the Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), also founded Giants of Africa (GOA) in 2003, as a way of harnessing budding, untapped talent.
“As long as I am in a position where I am able to, we have to give the youth a chance. We have to pave a path for them and there is nothing I can’t do. I have to do everything, it is an obligation, I have to be an example for them by creating that pathway,” he says.
Ujiri, who started playing basketball at the age of 13, travels to Africa every August to visit the GOA camps across seven countries on the continent, training young boys and girls to be leaders in both sport and everyday life.
He says he draws inspiration from each and every country in Africa, and the feeling is inexplicable.
The history and culture are a constant reminder of his years growing up in Africa.
Whether it is in Kenya, where his mother was born, or the lasting friendships in Rwanda, Senegal or Nigeria, each country holds special memories.
Apart from the numerous trips in and out of the continent, 2018 granted Ujiri a rare once-in-a-lifetime moment.
This was in July when Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, visited Kenya, and with him, Ujiri opened a basketball court in the country.
Ujiri’s outreach program GOA launched it at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Vocational Centre in Alego; familiar ground for both leaders.
Managed by Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu, much like GOA, is focused on youth development.
“To spend that time with somebody that Africa means so much to, meant so much to me and so much to Auma. We are trying to inspire youth, we built a court that is going to impact the youth and that was special,” says Ujiri.
Being able to scout African talent is what is imperative for Ujiri, and it all comes down to building facilities to help the youth play basketball.
Ultimately, his dream for Africa is not only to see material wealth but for talent to go beyond what he has achieved.
“My dream is to have one of the youth become bigger than me, and bigger than everybody. People think I always dream of building this and doing that but I want one of these kids to take everything that they learn and do better in each and everything.
“I love the continent; I love the culture of different places. I am almost like Anthony Bourdain [the late American celebrity chef], that is how it really is with basketball, with the culture, the people and the food,” says Ujiri.
Staying true to his African roots, when we meet him, Ujiri speaks about his favorite yam and stew dish that he says reminds him of his childhood.
It’s such memories that see him taking the long-haul flight out of Toronto to Africa each year.
Brewing Success: Lessons From A Beer Baron
Canadian John Sleeman shares his entrepreneurial lessons with Africa.
cis not your typical textbook entrepreneur. His belief in what it takes to be an entrepreneur is so controversial that his advice is no longer welcome in MBA classes. The white-haired charismatic brewer, who re-established his family’s brewing business in 1988 as one of the most successful in Canada, offers sage advice to African entrepreneurs, although he has no plans to expand in Africa – yet.
Nonchalantly, in his automated beer manufacturing plant in Guelph, Canada, surrounded by people enjoying his craft beer, Sleeman says he believes entrepreneurs are born, not made. He argues that unless you are prepared to go bankrupt, work over 80 hours a week, lose your friends, face the prospect of divorce, put your house on mortgage and miss meeting friends for drinks on Fridays, then entrepreneurship is not for you.
He should know. This is the toll he took to restart his family business. It had lost its licence and was banned from the market for 50 years in 1933. This was for smuggling beer during the roaring 1920s by brokering deals with bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone when prohibition set in in Canada.
Passionately, the beer baron, who plans to open a micro-distillery later this year, and is considering expanding his business in either the eastern or western parts of Canada, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If you want to be an entrepreneur, be very focused on what you want to achieve and don’t let people talk you out of it. If it is a dream, pursue it until you are successful.”
He attributes his success to surrounding himself with the right people. They will make or break your business, says Sleeman. You should be ready to change your business model if the current one isn’t working, he adds.
In his own case, he did this after his colleague advised him that rather than opening up new breweries across Canada, he should buy existing ones that share Sleeman Breweries’ crazy passion for beer and authenticity.
Sleeman reckons you shouldn’t grow so big that you lose your entrepreneurial flair, first-mover advantage and risk-appetite, but you also shouldn’t remain so small that you get knocked out of business or get bought out by someone who does not see your vision and wants to dismantle you, as it almost happened to his business in 2006. If you do sell, reminisces Sleeman, sell to someone who sees your vision, like Sleeman Breweries did, when Japanese company Sapporo saved the Guelph-based firm from a hostile takeover.
But that’s history. Since then, Sapporo has helped fund research and development and training for the business, whose humble, down-to-earth founder is now taking it on its next spirited journey.
The Story Of The $3,000 Sneakers
South African artist Conor McCreedy on creating what could be the world’s most expensive sneakers.
A literally stumbled upon a business opportunity.
The renowned South African artist, who only paints in blue,was one day at work in his studio, in a 600-year-old, four-storeyed building in Zurich, when he accidentally spilled some of the monochromatic pigment on to his white sneakers.
Who knew it would lead to a designer line of expensive sneakers.
The artist, resident in Switzerland since 2014, now sells the limited edition sneakers for $3,000 a pair.
What helped that day was that the painting accident was shortly before a meeting with an art collector.
“This art dealer wanted some work for a private collection.I couldn’t get time to put my shoes on, so I went in my sneakers, and this guy just loved them… He opened up to me and said he likes the idea. ‘Try and take it further’, he said to me,” says McCreedy to FORBES AFRICA, on the phone from Switzerland.
After spending four months finalizing the collaboration with an established shoe company, Ludwig Reiter, the concept sprung to life.
A regular pair of their white sneakers sells for $685, but with a splash of McCreedy, it costs almost five times more.
“A lot of people can put paint on sneakers. We are not reinventing the world but putting the McCreedy blue on to a sneaker. It has a value chain,” he says.
Even before its launch mid-November, nine of the 200 limited edition sneakers had been sold to collectors from around the world.
“I love when people say that the splash looks like a kid’s.I actually like that, it has taken me 30 years to create that splash, that is a great story,” says McCreedy.
He adds the handcrafted sneaker will not only appeal to art lovers who are looking to collect, but even corporate titans and banking CEOs,and the uber-chic would want to wear it at cultural festivals.
In Switzerland, ultra-networth and high-networth-individuals are his customers.
“The beautiful part is that the sneakers are backed by my art, and compared to the art, they are relatively cheap,” says McCreedy.
The tranquillity and stability the artist associates with the color blue led to the creation of his own pigment known as ‘McCreedy blue’.
McCreedy has used it to create most of his paintings since 2011.
But building a career through art requires more than just mixing color on canvas.
“Art is always considered a luxury; don’t let anyone fool you when they say it is not luxurious. People don’t just buy art, it is a luxury creation… If Picasso was alive today, he would probably have his own app,” he says.
His art inspired him to create products, from candles to a coffee blend on sale on the ground floor of his studio.
The space is curated so it’s an alluring odyssey for customers.
White walls are adorned with original McCreedy blue paintings, showcasing the artist’s work for prospective buyers, collectors and dealers.
The ‘Essence of McCreedy blue’ forms part of the luxurious elements the artist wants to reinstate in the art world.
It took the artist three years in Zurich, one of the global centers for banking and finance, to convert an old bank building into an atelier and studio. “It’s showing how people view the world through the eyes of an artist. It is about being part of the journey and the experience. It is about feeling what luxury is like,” he says.
Staying true to his African roots, McCreedy draws inspiration from Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa, which he expresses through abstract images.
“I love African and South African art. It is really stimulating for me and as a growing artist, I like to collect whatever I can afford. One day, I will create my own museum and show what I have from different parts of the world,” says McCreedy. Open to exploring more markets, McCreedy wishes to collaborate with African artists. He would not have it any other way.
The world may present the artist with greater opportunities,but it cannot compete with the culture and the spirit of ubuntu [humanity]found in his country of birth, he explains.
“I miss good South African beer, I miss sitting on a Land Rover with no shirt on, drinking a beer. I miss the weather and the locals.”
But wherever McCreedy goes, he ensures his prized pair of sneakers is never too far away.
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