The Khayelitsha-based location offers flour on credit and will soon feature a restaurant, clothing store, bakery, and outdoor gym.
Located on the bustling Govan Mbeki road in Khayelitsha, near the Chris Hani Secondary School and surrounded by container-based businesses ranging from fruit and veg shops to appliance repair stores you can find LaVidos Business Park. Currently consisting of a couple of small buildings and a container, the location is unassuming, but upon closer inspection, it is the beginning of an entrepreneurial venture that is not only aiming to develop the location but also to assist other small businesses in the surrounding community.
The brainchild of Vuyani Stemmer, the Easter Cape-born entrepreneur has called Khayelitsha home since 1991 growing up just behind where his business park is located. While growing up in the township wasn’t easy, Vuyani credits his upbringing for giving him the tools to navigate it. “It’s all about parenting. If we take it seriously and listen to our parents and learn between yes and no, and just do the right thing at the right time. You just have to be disciplined then you won’t get involved in other things,” he explains.
Already as a child, Vuyani’s entrepreneurial spirit shone through with him finding ways to earn extra money while still at school, such as working at a nearby shop. “I grew up working at this fruit and veg [shop] after school, selling fruit and vegetables for the owner. I’ve been involved in many businesses. I’ve been a DJ, making an extra 50 bucks on weekends, so I’ve always had that background.”
After completing his matric at the nearby Chris Hani Secondary School, Vuyani started working full-time, getting his micro-roasters certificate from Espressolab, before working as a barista for a variety of shops including Vida e Caffè, Boutique Mall, De Villiers Chocolate, and The Vineyard Hotel, before starting his current role of store manager at Mazon J, a plant-based cafe in Camps Bay.
Although he has spent the last 15 years working in coffee shops, Vuyani had always had a dream of starting a business in Khayelitsha and the unused land by his mother’s house was the perfect location for it, with Vuyani taking ownership of it in 2012. “This was a dumping space for the community but as a young man, I had a vision of opening a car wash and a shisa nyama. As time goes, the vision is getting stronger and stronger, and now I have flour, but the main idea was not to have this dark place where people are dumping stuff but to have a place where people can jump from the taxi and still feel safe. That’s the situation.”
The flour Vuyani is referring to is the Best Bake flour range which he is distributing in Khayelitsha from LaVidos Business Park using a unique business model that sees him offering the flour to local businesses on credit. “These are our people, this is our community. Even the big companies are doing it. We are currently supplying Spar with Best Bake, Khayelitsha and Cape Gate. They take credit and only pay after 30 days. What’s the difference between giving a young lady that’s working in the community 10kgs of flour and she can pay after 30 days? That’s what we’ve created on the ground, giving people credit. We’re strict with them, but we’re helping each other. That’s the whole idea,” Vuyani explains.
As a relatively unknown brand, the credit system also helps Vuyani market the flour range to new customers. “I go to a person selling vetkoek, I ask them how much flour they use and then I give them credit for a week. [They pay] if they’re happy with my flour because I give them samples since they don’t know the brand. I have to introduce it and go by myself and meet the community. We’re supplying Ace, one of the biggest businessmen in Khayelitsha. He is buying flour from us [for KwaAce Lounge], that’s what makes this business exciting!”
The idea to start distributing flour in Khayelitsha came to Vuyani when he met one of his business partners at his management job in Camps Bay. “I deal with a lot of customers. There was this family that showed interest in me and how I do stuff. LaVidos Business Park was already alive, but through them, they helped to boost the business towards the vision that I had for it. I developed a nice relationship with the son of Scott Miller, who is the owner of Group 35 that makes the flour, that’s when this business came alive again.”
Because Vuyani had previously run LaVidos Business Park on his own with no prior experience, the business was suffering. “I had to learn the hard way in terms of not knowing how to run cash flow, cash injection in the business. I got so excited at the start that I dropped my job and just focused on the business. I was living off the business and it was also dying,” notes Vuyani adding how personal growth and meeting his business partner at the right time have helped turn things around and inspire him to distribute the flour. “Now I’m more mature and understand exactly what the business needs to run for a certain time. We have to be careful of numbers. So when I met Kyle I thought let’s do flour in the townships. Because we checked on the numbers, the guys are too expensive for people and the reality is that it’s not that expensive. People are taking so much margin.”
Currently, the flour distribution company, which runs under the name Vukasi, is the only business located in LaVidos Business Park but Vuyani has big plans for the space. “At the moment we’re doing flour, rusks, sugar, maize, we’re going to do dog food. Vukasi is part of LaVidos. Vukasi is one of the businesses operating here that is up and running. The bigger vision is to open a nice kitchen here where we’re serving food and a playground for the kids with jumping castles. I want to create that vibe. Everyone is creating businesses that benefit older people and the kids are being neglected, one of the things is that 40% of this business will be for the kids,” Vuyani notes.
The restaurant Vuyani is referring to will also be called LaVidos that will serve African home-style food in a double-storey container capable of seating 50 people. “We want to do a design of a double story container structure with a balcony. We want to sell normal food like steam bread and stew, ribs and salad, omelettes, and cookies for the community. One day, we want to open a bakery here where we can sell bread affordably.”
Vuyani is also in talks with other business people in the area to open stores in LaVidos Business Park. “What I’m doing now I’m chatting with young business people around, we want to do a clothing shop and an outdoor gym here.”
While LaVidos Business Park is the brainchild of Vuyani, he no longer runs it or Vukasi on his own but rather works with two business partners, the previously mentioned Kyle Miller and Siyabulela Godwana, who was Vuyani’s neighbour growing up. “He’s a very nice guy,” says Vuyani of Siyabulela, adding that “he works as the regional manager for McDonald’s. We got together, we understand each other. He’s different from me. He brings all the paperwork, behind the scenes stuff, numbers.” With the aforementioned Kyle Miller, Vuyani also has a coffee shop company that they’re working on. “He was my customer and he ended up being my brother,” Vuyani says of Kyle.
Thanks to Ikeja, LaVidos Business Park also has reliable WiFi at an affordable price compared to mobile data which Vuyani and his staff previously had to rely on. “I’m very happy with Ikeja, we didn’t have any WiFi before,” notes Vuyani adding that “most of the guys that work here used to come just to use the internet and then they end up working. We have the community standing around and using it and we also benefit from it because our customers order on WhatsApp so we don’t have to buy data and customers can communicate with us easily and immediately. We also use it for social media to find new customers. Instagram uses a lot of data and with Ikeja, we don’t have to worry about that.”
While Vuyani wants to further develop the flour distribution business, aiming to get it to a level where trucks start delivering directly to customers from the mill, his ultimate goal is to open a cafe with his own twist. “Ideally, I want to sit in my coffee shop and roast my own beans. I’d love to open a coffee shop in the CBD or Seaboard, but I want to roast in Khayelitsha with African beans, the bakery must be in Khayelitsha, that’s my big vision,” Vuyani says excitedly.