It’s hard to miss Sikis Koffee Kaffe in the heart of Khayelitsha. Outside the coffee shop, colourful bicycles are lined up against a wall, and a few people and cars dot the pavement near the entrance of the garage-turned-coffee-shop. This is when I first met Sikelela ‘Siki’ Dibela, the owner and founder of Sikis Koffee Kafe. It’s a hot day and I was there to take some pictures of the café; when I introduce myself, he shakes my hand with a relaxed smile. Siki is a natural people person. When I call him the following week for this feature, he is warm, amiable, and keen to share his experience. It takes no time for us to talk about our mother tongues, where we’re from; and naturally, coffee.
Siki runs his coffee shop out of the garage of his home in the township of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town. After dropping out of high school, he started working in cafes as a dishwasher at a young age; it took him little time to start climbing the ranks, and he was employed as a store manager. When he was presented with the opportunity to work in London; he left South Africa and lived in Fulham, a small residential area in West London for two years. It was there that he got the idea for Sikis, the first coffee shop in Khayelitsha.
Siki identified a huge gap in the township market. “When I was in London, I had the experience of bumping into coffee shops before heading into town. Within the context of South Africa, most people who live in the township travel to the CBD, but there was nowhere for them to get coffee in the township, in their neighbourhood.” Siki also identified the need to bring township dwellers a good cup of coffee for health reasons too. “In the townships, we consume a lot of instant coffee. Instant coffee isn’t nice because it’s bitter, so people tend to put too much sugar in it, and too much sugar isn’t healthy. I wanted to bring people sweeter tasting coffee so they could cut down on their sugar.”
Running a successful coffee shop takes intuition and risk-taking.
“I took a risk when I decided to launch the cafe in my garage,” Siki says. But the risk is paying off. The growth of Sikis Koffee Kafe has been big”. He explains how he grew the product line that he offers. ”Six years ago when I started, I just sold cookies, muffins and coffee.” Now, he has expanded his product offerings and the cafe can be found in two locations; Khayelitsha and Claremont, a southern suburb in Cape Town known for its residential and commercial footprint. COVID-19 also triggered another big shift in Siki’s operations: Siki roasts his own coffee, and retails his blends to other coffee shops, such as Clarke’s Café in the CBD.
The opportunity of uncertain times.
COVID-19 provided Siki with the opportunity to innovate. Like many other entrepreneurs, SIki was also concerned about another pandemic, and the potential impact of the businesses he now supplies. “Will we rely on people to create stuff for us or can we create it for ourselves? How do I position myself where I can supply myself, supply others and empower other people who want to get into the coffee industry.” These are some of the questions he pondered on, as a rising brand and as a business owner.
When I asked Siki about his views on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs, he laughed and said that “to be an entrepreneur, one needs to be crazy; but to be an entrepreneur, one also needs to look for solutions”.
The pandemic offers an example of the kind of solutions mindset Siki has adopted. When shops had to close their doors during the lockdown , Siki had to innovate quickly. “My business is all about social interaction. We had to close the doors. It means that we needed to come up with new strategies to survive.” This is when Sikis moved online. People no longer needed to leave their house, they could order Sikis from the comfort of their homes, making it more convenient.
Despite his success, Siki also acknowledges the challenges township entrepreneurs experience with lack of support. “There aren’t many people supporting entrepreneurs in the township. In the city, entrepreneurs have access to pools of people that can approve their concept and purchase. But the townships lacks both infrastructure and established markets; and as a result, investors and funders may think of your business as a case study.” This is true for the majority of township entrepreneurs, as the Heavy Chef Entrepreneur Education Report shows that 62% of entrepreneurs have access to less than three other entrepreneurs on a regular basis; the number increases to 74% for those in townships.
The role of networks and mentorship.
Siki sees the coffee shop as a means of driving collaboration and creating a network of township entrepreneurs. “What we don’t have in our community are networks of entrepreneurs where people share their knowledge. I saw an opportunity through the coffee shop to start that culture of collaboration where we can share ideas and give each other tips as entrepreneurs.” The bicycles outside Sikis belong to one of his collaborators – Sindile Mavundla, owner of Khaltsha Cycles, a one-stop bike shop that promotes the culture of cycling in townships at affordable prices. Khaltsha Cycles also offers townships tours, and Sikis is one of the destinations on the map.
“We need to make it easy for entrepreneurs to access mentors,” Siki says. He goes on to explain that entrepreneurs need more than one mentor, a sounding board that can give them advice. Most importantly, entrepreneurs also need exposure to different ways of running a business, innovating and solving problems. This is one of the reasons why Siki is affiliated with the Heavy Chef Foundation, which offers entrepreneurs peer to peer learning and support for entrepreneurs and small businesses through different programmes.
Before wrapping up the conversation, I asked Siki for his top three tips for budding entrepreneurs.
Tips from Siki for entrepreneurs:
- Know the business you want to get into. Understand the market.
- You must have passion about that particular business or sector that you want to enter,.
- You just need to start and give it your all.