Sihle Magubane: Owner of SA’s only fully black-owned coffee brand

Meet one of the few black players in the coffee business. A former barista, Sihle Magubane has taken his skills to the next level by creating his own coffee blends

Sihle Magubane’s (33) passion for coffee is clear. He creates his own speciality blends that he makes from start to finish. A coffee originator, roaster and barista, he personally selects the beans and blends, roasts and retails Sihle’s Brew by himself.

Despite many naysayers telling him he’d never crack it in the industry, Magubane was focused on his dream. “They said I was never going to make it in this white-dominated industry,” he laughs.

Magubane grew up in the informal settlement of Sydham in KwaZulu-Natal where he faced a number of challenges. At 16 he became the sole provider for for his younger brother and sister after their mother passed away. He got a number of odd jobs to keep the family afloat and ensure that his siblings enjoyed a comfortable standard of living. “I used to support them with part-time jobs while I was at school; I did gardening and also worked at a pizza place on weekends,” he explains.

In 2003 he got a chance to attend the Ciro Coffee Academy where he obtained the Comprehensive International Barista Certificate through City & Guilds, an internationally accredited training body.

Magubane says he prefers to be a one-man band because it means he can ensure the quality of his products, but working alone is not easy. “For black people who are [in the industry] they own up to 50% [of the business] or they collaborate with white people; they don’t do what I do,” he says.

Magubane says he’s weary of big companies that want to buy a stake in his company because they often don’t have the best intentions.

“I was offered a lot of money to buy shares and the biggest challenge is that these people come with irresistible money. I had one investor who wanted to invest R2,5 million, and I said no,” he says.

He adds that he’s refused 15 such offers because he believes some investors will only destroy the company: “They will continue with the brand while I will just be a face of  Sihle’s Brew, but not own [the] majority of shares.”

Before selling to any major investor, Magubane says he wants to offer shares to the people who work with him because they understand his passion and drive.

Refusing big offers means Magubane’s business is growing very slowly. His annual turnover fluctuates between R300 000 and R500 000. He has been forced to turn down orders because he lacks capacity to fill them.

“Sometimes I don’t eat because I don’t have money when I have to pay my debtors. I don’t have a regular cash flow to run the company. If I did I would be on the next level quicker because I have the clientele and good client feedback,” he says.

Despite these challenges, Sihle’s Brews are available from a number of retail stores across the country including Food Lovers Market in Bryanston, Fourways, and Kayalami in Joburg, and stores in the Menlyn Centre, Glenfair Shopping Centre and Midstream Mall in Midrand. His coffees can also be found in a coffee shop in Harrismith called Simply Delicious Brew, and he provides coffee to an upmarket private school and also delivers to Kia Motors. He has also approached various Spar stores in Pretoria.

The future is looking bright for the intrepid coffee master, and Magubane says he’s looking to be the first black-owned coffee brand to export overseas. “People are looking for something that is truly African,” he says.

Find out more about Sihle at Sihle’s Brew.

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