Coffee shop froth all the rage

2016-07-28 06:00
dark and strong Shawn Mepeni, Wongama Baleni and Vuyile Msaku, the owners of the Department of Coffee in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

dark and strong Shawn Mepeni, Wongama Baleni and Vuyile Msaku, the owners of the Department of Coffee in Khayelitsha, Cape Town

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This story is about three friends and hard work.

Wongama Baleni was getting tired of trying to sell coffee to corporate and government officials, and always being blocked by the woman at the front desk who said: “You’ll have to make an appointment with the boss first!”

Then he realised that using the word ‘department’ in his company’s name might just do the trick.

It worked! Indeed...

From then on, the Department of Coffee somehow became associated with the government, and since then had no problem finding clients.

Located in Khayelitsha, at the busy shopping hub near the Khayelitsha train station, the DOC is South Africa’s first township success story in the coffee business.

Baleni, one of three co-owners of the DOC and a former firefighter, loves to entertain tourist groups with tales of the business’ origins under bright orange umbrellas.

The café, the DOC headquarters, is in an imposing three-storey corrugated iron building in burnt orange–for extra effect.

Vuyile Msaku, a qualified barisat is inside the coffee bar chatting to Shawn Mepeni. Baleni, Msaku and Mepeni are the success story behind the DOC brand.

Mepeni previously worked in the hospitality industry. Judging by his relaxed attitude, Msaku’s order of 18 cappuccinos is clearly nothing to get into a froth about.

Outside, a gathering of Bidvest employees and a group of foreign students from the University of Stellenbosch are soaking up the atmosphere and information.

“We get up to four groups weekly of between 10 and 50 people,” says the ambitious Baleni, who comes from Khayelitsha, like the rest of the coffee crew.

Some of the regular clients who enjoy the DOC’s coffee and free delivery are employees of the Khayelitsha Hospital, the Khayelitsha Magistrates’ Court and the Khayelitsha Mall.

The trio’s aim was to bring quality artisanal coffee to townships and challenge their culture’s myths about the drink with a simple formula – “good coffee at prices that the masses can afford”.

They offer a wide range of espresso-based coffees, including lattes, espressos and macchiatos. Filter coffee sells for R8.50 and cappuccinos are R13. They believe they are successful, selling up to 100 cups on a good day.

“We’ve developed five blends: Station, Runaway, Africa, Mzansi and Umlungu, a light roast”, says Baleni, who had his first cappuccino when he was 22. Tea, hot chocolate and juice are also on the menu, as are a range of muffins. In an effort to give back to the community, the DOC’s weekly “muffin run” involves supplying between 200 and 500 muffins to up to six crèches in Khayelitsha.

The DOC also offers barista training to local youth. “Our interns are unemployed matric graduates to whom we give a skill and a travel stipend,” says Baleni, who has teamed up with the organisation Action Volunteers Africa to find deserving interns.

“We want to help reduce the number of youth hanging around on the street corners, doing nothing,” he adds passionately.

Then there’s the community involvement in the monthly open party days, which up to 150 visitors attend. Local artists, crafters, poets, dancers and DJs all offer up their talents.

Residents from elsewhere are paying equal attention to the DOC’s other mobile outlets at the Khayelitsha Mall and Philippi Village. This month, the team launched its fourth outlet in as many years in business.

The new kiosk in the city marks their official arrival into the Cape’s concrete – and coffee – jungle. With coffee competition situated on almost every corner on Long Street, how will the DOC’s brews cater for the more discerning palates?

“Free delivery for clients, the same prices, and our vibe and service will make us different. But the secret will be in our cup,” says Baleni.

Beginning with a laundry business called the Money Laundry, the trio of 20-somethings has always thought catchy words in business were vital. “Names and colours in branding your business are important. If your eyes see colour, they will pay attention,” says Baleni.

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