How three friends brought Bootlegger Coffee to 32 stores

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The founders of Bootlegger Antonie Basson, Pieter Bloem, De Waal Basson. Picture: Supplied.

  • Bootlegger Coffee Company started as a single branch in Cape Town in 2013 – and was never intended to be a chain of coffee shops.
  • Today, the company has 26 stores, with six more currently under construction.
  • Since then, the company has served around 9 million flat blanks, baked around 500 croissants a day and sells 10,000 slices of banana bread a month.
  • Franchisees now run most of the stores and a new kiosk offering will start at less than Rand 1 million.
  • Here’s how three friends built the brand – and how much it costs to buy your own Bootlegger franchise.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South African coffee chain Bootlegger Coffee Company has grown steadily since its beginnings as a one-stop shop in Sea Point in Cape Town in 2013.

The business started as a small business between friends Pieter Bloem, De Waal Basson and Antonie Basson – and was never meant to be a restaurant chain, but rather a strong brand of retail coffee beans. And although Bloem jokes that if he had what he wanted, they would still only run their one Sea Point store, today Bootlegger has grown into one of the largest cafe and restaurant franchises in the country. .

In eight years, the three friends have taken Bootlegger Coffee Company from that one Sea Point store to 26 branches in Cape Town and Johannesburg – with six new branches currently under construction and at least three more slated for 2022.

The operation has also increased significantly. To date, the founders of Bootlegger say they have created jobs for more than 600 people and paid around 9 million flat whites. They currently bake at least 500 croissants a day and sell 10,000 slices of banana bread a month according to a recipe from Bloem’s mother’s kitchen.

Reaching that ladder took time, however – and that amount of baking and pouring coffee was never the original goal.

After leaving the advertising industry, co-founder Bloem says he knew he wanted to open a restaurant, and went so far as to bid for an existing independent establishment. But when he realized he didn’t know anything about running an independent restaurant, he decided to buy a Col’Cacchio franchise instead.

“My tuition was five years in the basement of a regional mall in Cavendish,” Bloem told Business Insider South Africa. “I haven’t seen the light of day for five years!”

Although it was a good company that taught him a lot about what it takes to run a restaurant, Bloem eventually sold it and took time off. But he quickly teamed up with two close friends – brothers De Waal and Antonie Basson – and bought a cafe called Go Gos, owned by Bloem’s wife.

With limited experience in the coffee industry, Bloem says they made the early decision to buy the best coffee equipment they could find to cover up any early mistakes they might make. And then, over the course of a few whiskeys, they decided to change the company’s name to Bootlegger for its masculine, slightly mischievous, community-centric overtones, but also breaking the rules.

Bloem took the name to heart first, selling beans in the trunk of his car, often on the ride from the roaster in Riviersonderend and Cape Town. At this point, the idea was for Bootlegger to be a retail coffee business, but after moving the roaster to the Sea Point location, mostly for convenience, they realized they might as well sell a few cups of coffee to the public from there.

This is where it all started to snowball, Bloem says.

“We figured if we were selling coffee, we might as well sell some breakfast. If we can sell breakfast, we might as well do lunch. And if we are going to have lunch, then it will flow to the tapas. We also didn’t have a bar in the neighborhood we liked to go to, so if we run a bar we might as well have dinner, ”he says. “So not wanting to run another restaurant, we got one open from 6.30am to 11pm. And that’s how Bootlegger started.”

At this point, the three friends still had no plans to expand the Bootlegger brand to more than one location, but Bloem says all the ingredients were there in their various skills.

“I am the dreamer, De Waal is the accountant and Antonie is the baker,” says Bloem. And with the addition of COO Ricky Ruthenberg, whom Bloem describes as “the driver,” the team was able to grow the business until it is today.

“When best friends get together there is a risk that you would start to get upset or disagree, but we were all going in different directions and working towards the same goal, so it worked,” says Bloem.

The new expansion came when real estate developers with offices above the Sea Point branch loved the concept and opened the eyes of the Bootlegger team to opportunities at other locations. Bloem says most of them were too good to say no – and they put the idea of ​​a retail-only coffee brand on hold and focused on their brick-and-mortar operations instead.

“The idea has always been growth, but not necessarily to have 32 restaurants by the end of 2021”, explains Bloem.

Despite their expansion, the hyper-local approach is at the heart of Bootlegger’s growth model. There are six Bootlegger branches on the Atlantic coast in almost as many kilometers, for example.

“We wanted to control growth. If you open a store in Cape Town, one in Paris, one in Canada, you are prepared for disaster. It doesn’t work for us. We like to go to one area, get a good understanding of that area, and then have multiple stores – like we currently do in Johannesburg, ”says Bloem.

Bloem believes local knowledge is essential when identifying new locations: “Being one block or one block away or which side of the road you are on can make all the difference to the success of this. store. “

For this, they turn to their internal decision-makers – and also turn to franchisees with a good knowledge of their environment.

Existing stores also tend to sell to prospective franchisees, says Ricky Ruthenberg, COO. Most potential franchisees begin their journey after visiting a branch, finding it attractive, and then submitting a franchise application form.

“There is a lot of interest in Bootlegger franchises, but it takes a special person to run a cafe. It’s not just someone with a check, and it’s not just a business. people, ”says Ruthenberg.

Ruthenberg says that over the past eight years of refining the franchise process, they’ve streamlined it to create new stores in four to six weeks. Based on previous experience, a new franchisee can independently run the branch within three months. After that, their goal is for franchisees to see a return on their investment within two years.

“It’s turnkey to a point – we have a strong operations team, we build the store, staff and stock it and show you how to do it all from day one. How to make coffee, how to pay your bills and your staff, then you fit in, ”says Ruthenberg.

A new Bootlegger branch costs between R2.5 million and R3.5 million, including membership fees and working capital, depending on the size of the store, which is on par with franchises from similar restaurants like Mugg and Bean. A cheaper kiosk concept that sells coffees and pastries is also on the cards, which will cost between 800,000 and 1 million rand. Once the deals are signed and everything is up and running, franchisees pay a monthly fee of 5%, plus a contractual marketing fee of 2% – although to date it has remained at 1%.

They are currently open for applications across the country, with a particular focus on Cape Town and Johannesburg. And while the team is serious and carefully reviews each new franchisee and business partner, they still seem to have the spark for fun and friendship that started the business.

“We take a similar approach to our friendship as we do to finding business partners,” says Ruthenberg. “If we’re able to go for a run together at Table Mountain and at the end of the day we can still do business and have a beer together, then we’re on the right track.”

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