Coffee for the people with Café Societi franchise
Café Societi – a ‘baby sister’ for Cape Town’s Societi Bistro – is the pilot for a franchise programme with a goal of 300 stores in three years.
The team at Societi Bistro, and their fearless leader Peter Weetman, have welcomed a new member to the family: Café Societi. The first of what is intended to be many is based at the parent restaurant in Gardens, Cape Town.
Since perfection is the name of the game, a dry run was held last week ahead of the official launch this week. A limited selection of items was made available for a chosen few to try. I consulted my lunar calendar, my crystals, my life coach and my weather app and cleverly selected a hot chocolate shot to be collected the next day at precisely 2.30pm when it was pouring with rain. I’m annoyingly clever like that; also, I have the best weather app.
A shot of hot chocolate is good at any time, and this was thick and rich, topped with a dollop of whipped cream. The little bit left over at the bottom of the cup was spooned out later when it had cooled. I also ordered a salted caramel mosbolletjie, which I could feel through the brown paper bag was still warm. I desperately wanted to eat it in the car but restrained myself on account of the inevitable sticky fingers. Imagine my surprise when I got home and found a refresher towel had thoughtfully been included. It’s the little things that count, and I know for next time, although a quick blast in the microwave and slathered with butter was not a disagreeable outcome for the bun.
My third order was the lemon feta ravioli, for which I’ve acquired quite the taste; when I returned to the website this week, it was sold out. Sorry for me but yay for the restaurant. This is a small example of what Café Societi has on the menu. There are many, many hot and cold beverages, which you can customise (tall, grande, type of milk, type of and how much sweetener), juices, smoothies, sandwiches, desserts, ready meals, deli items, and even kitchen toys like a microplane grater (Santa, is it too soon?) so you can cover your mushroom risotto – a famous Societi signature dish available from the Café – with ridiculous amounts of Parmesan and pretend you are at Societi Bistro itself.
And this is only the beginning. I had a chat with Weetman on launch day to find out more about the big plans for the future. Operating from 7am till 3pm Mondays to Saturdays, Café Societi’s first day was fantastic, exceeding all expectations, he said. The three-day trial in advance had helped enormously, and all feedback was taken into consideration to ensure a smooth opening.
Weetman laughed when I said he’s a perfectionist, but it’s true; I’ve sat with him while he’s taste-tested new dishes, and the attention to detail is vigorous. This procedure is followed for every item to which Societi puts its name.
Café Societi is envisaged as a “one-stop shop” where you can grab a morning coffee and croissant with scrambled eggs and bacon, or a pain au nemesis which is filled with the Societi chocolate nemesis tart and every time I speak its name I have to add “oh my god”; include a smoothie to take to the gym; select a meal to heat and eat later for lunch or dinner or both; stock up on olive oil, pasta sauces, health bread and some Richard Bosman charcuterie or a jar of his bacon miso caramel (same price as from the source); and when the Curated selection of fine locally made products is added, a gift for someone you love. Or yourself, we won’t judge.
“We have handpicked certain experts in their field,” said Weetman. “I am a huge fan of Richard Bosman’s products. Sir Fruit has recently launched an exceptional range of vitamin boosters, pressed juices, and smoothies – owing to the space constraints in our planned stores and consistency of product we have decided to partner with them on these products.
“In our Kitchen Toys section, we included great kitchen gadgets that we feel are essential to enhancing your dining at home experience, like an exceptional microplane to grate Parmesan, or our Grana Padano (also available in our deli section), the blowtorch to brûlée our mini lemon tart, and we hope to release a beautiful range of crockery shortly.”
One of my favourite items in the Café – even though it’s not for me – is the puppuccino. Yes, a treat specially for the four-legged friends: a 100ml cup with either whipped cream, full cream-, soy-, or oat milk froth with a mini bone-shaped peanut butter pet treat. Knowing Weetman is a dog parent I thought this was his idea, but he credits his right-hand man Johan van Heerden for coming up with this. Think about it – before taking the hounds for their morning constitutional, you go online, order yourself a vanilla latte and a panini, and a little luxury for your furkids. What a time to be alive.
At the moment, Café Societi is accessible via the website (mobile and desktop), with the app in development for imminent release. One of the most important things, says Weetman, is that the platforms are quick and easy to use. “I hope our little guide to what you click next isn’t patronising, but most people think they know what they’re doing but in fact they have no idea. Then they give up and leave. We’ve been very conscious of that.”
The idea is that Weetman’s 80-year-old Mum is as comfortable placing an order (and she did) as a tech savvy teen. “It’s about putting the message out there that everyone deserves a great cup of coffee. That little sugar fix, a great sarmie, a pastry. It’s kind of street food in a way – have a great coffee, take a breath, look at the view,” suggested Weetman.
Ordering is painless (the most difficult thing is deciding what to have), checkout is smooth, and you get reassuring emails and texts to keep you updated before the kerbside collection in the time slot you have requested. As you pull up, a smiling person (yes, you can see that even with a mask) will be waiting outside 50 Orange Street, Cape Town, with your order, with each item clearly marked with your name and its description. If you are within 3km of that address, you can choose to have Terblanche Jordaan deliver to you, for a small fee.
“We are still doing à la carte deliveries in town from 3pm till 9pm, as well as the option to sit down with wine at the same time. We aren’t open for lunch because I don’t want to confuse the two,” said Weetman. “Kerbside collection is available for all dishes, as well as deliveries in a 3km radius. Hot meals don’t travel so well, it’s just yuck, so we drew a line.
“Terblanche has got the most incredible work ethic and is such a lovely, cheerful person. Delivery can be a real pain in the ass, but he keeps his cool.”
The Snug Bar at Societi Bistro is now open too, from 5pm till 9pm, for fireside chats.
Café Societi has been planned since October 2019, and the intention is, and always has been, to franchise. To be absolutely clear, Societi Bistro itself is not being franchised; securing funding for something like that would be unlikely, said Weetman, to the tune of about R12-million to make a new one.
“For me, in October I hadn’t turned 50 yet but that anxiety was kicking in and I really just felt it was time to give something back,” said Weetman.
Although he is reluctant to label this a BEE project, “it’s more about skills transfer to the next generation and we feel that bridge is best done through a franchise”, he says – it will be offered predominantly to people of diversity, and predominantly women. “I’m a huge feminist as you know,” he added.
“Our partners are more than likely going to be an audit firm, which is still in negotiation. They will oversee everything and we would approach, on behalf of the franchisee applicants, different funds like Old Mutual or the Department of Small Business Development or that sort of thing. Because everything is held in a trust account with the auditors there’s a lot of comfort for the funds… everything is sound and well preserved and looked after.
“Over time we will bring them back to HQ for a series of lectures we have planned – entrepreneurship with me, how to run a business from a financial aspect from the audit firm, we’ll bring in our labour lawyers to teach them about that. It’s a staggered plan, we’re not just handing over a whole lot of money and saying ‘here you are chum, off you go’. They need to get used to being in the hospitality space and slowly but surely we will keep on transferring the skills to help them grow.
“For obvious reasons it’s in our own best interest that they succeed. We have so many unemployed students, they have a degree but they can’t find work. They’re highly talented, they’re really smart, they are young – and they have very few opportunities. Our aim is to open 300 stores in three years.”
All the meals will be prepared at Societi Bistro to create consistency, by a team that works from 11pm till 6 or 7am. This is essentially a dark kitchen, and as the businesses expand, additional kitchens will be established in each metro where Café Societis are located.
“Each franchisee will come for three weeks’ training – purely on coffee – before they get their store,” said Weetman. “We’ve been lucky: we’ve secured Geoffrey Hutton, former trainer and store opener for Woolworths. He’s phenomenal, and is head of the project.”
Architects have been consulted in advance, which saves franchisees on their fees, and every Café Societi has been designed in a modular way which can be adapted to the store size, dictated by criteria such as foot traffic, and demographics in that area.
“We want to open in Khayelitsha, we want to open at the station,” said Weetman. “There are a lot of plans. We won’t own any of them, but there will be ‘hand-holding’ and support through each and every phase. We’re looking at small stores, about 50 square metres with very approachable rental. In most we won’t have seating because you’re pre-ordering on the app or online.”
As you’ve indicated your pick up time, your order will be hot or icy, fresh and ready to go. Everything has its sticker to identify it if you’re buying for your colleagues at the office, and there’s no screaming at the barista over the noisy coffee grinders, a nightmare with which many of us are familiar.
Speaking of multiple orders, Café Societi also offers the option of creating bundled favourites which can be personally tailored. If this suddenly seems to be more complicated than a swift three-click process of ordering, calm yourself: you can book a face-to-face appointment with a human consultant at Societi Bistro who will walk and talk you through it. With a cup of coffee. If you can’t do that, there will be tutorial videos online and on social media.
“We want to make this as user friendly and seamless as possible. And as much as we want our franchisees to be successful, we want our guests to feel successful as well. Our ‘why’ is very much split between transfer of skills to the next generation and you, the guest. What is going to make you have an amazing experience? It’s about making you happy at each store. It’s a fallacy there is poor service in South Africa,” said Weetman.
To this end, Weetman and his team want to hear from you. “You’re not our customers, you are our guests. We really have embraced that at Societi. Compliments are always great to receive but to be honest, what makes the business better is the constructive feedback. It’s not corporate lip service, we mean it.
“Times are tough, and we will probably be crucified by some people for being overly simplistic but my feeling is I don’t want to be challenged by anything, least of all by some digital thing in this day and age. Click, click, click and out.”
Weetman said he’s very proud of the team and how they have pulled together is an absolute joy. “But I must say, because it’s not always visible to me and because I don’t really understand much about digital, it’s been difficult to lead people who know a lot more than I do!” he laughed.
A complimentary and grateful phrase Weetman uses frequently is calling people “a force of nature”, but he is one himself.
Added extras: after I ordered, I received reward points which were added to my Café Societi Card (which, by the way, you can give as a gift too, just saying) to use next time. Every weekday morning until 11 September, 2020, listeners of Cape Talk’s Breakfast with Refilwe between 6am and 9am can have a chance to win a R1,000 card.
All the packaging is compostable so you can put it in the ground and it will be absorbed back into the earth. By the end of September, the plan is to include plant seeds in the hollow at the base of the takeaway cups. Stick it in the ground, and it will grow into an indigenous plant, or keep it on the windowsill with the lid as a drip tray. “You’ll be helping the environment, and a young entrepreneur make their dream come true,” said Weetman.
There’s a whole lot of feel-good surrounding this passion project. “I’ve been very, very fortunate in my life and had incredible support from the public and professionals, and I think it’s time to do this before I get too old,” said Weetman.
Franchise opportunities are open for initial applications through the website but manage your expectations: it’s not an immediate process and will still take some time. “We’ll only look at candidates in about two or three months,” said Weetman. “We’ve just launched, so we need to get it right first. The lawyers have been approaching funds for their criteria and I’m going through that with them, so we can match the right candidate with the right fund.” DM/TGIFood
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