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How three friends grew Bootlegger Coffee to 32 stores

Funky and authentic South African coffee chain, Bootlegger Coffee Company, has enjoyed sustained growth since its beginnings as a single store in Cape Town’s Sea Point in 2013.

The business started as a small venture between friends Pieter Bloem, De Waal Basson, and Antonie Basson – and was never supposed to be a restaurant chain, but rather a strong retail coffee bean brand.

Antonie Basson, Pieter Bloem, De Waal Basson

And although Bloem jokes that if he had his way, they would still only run their single Sea Point store, today, Bootlegger has grown into one of the country’s biggest coffee shop and restaurant franchises.

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

The operation has scaled dramatically, too. To date, the Bootlegger founders say they have created employment for more than 600 people and poured around nine million flat whites.

They currently bake at least 500 croissants each day and sell 10,000 slices of banana bread per month based on a recipe born out of Bloem’s mother’s kitchen.

Reaching this scale took time, however – and this much baking and coffee pouring was never actually the early objective. 

After leaving the advertising industry, co-founder Bloem says he knew he wanted to open a restaurant, and he went as far as to put in an offer for an existing independent establishment. But when he realised he knew nothing about running a standalone restaurant he instead decided to buy a Col’Cacchio franchise.

“My school fees were five years in the basement of a regional mall in Cavendish,” Bloem told Business Insider South Africa. “I didn’t see the light of day for five years!”

Although it was a good business that taught him a lot about what it takes to run a restaurant, Bloem eventually sold it and took some time off. But he soon banded together with two close friends – brothers De Waal and Antonie Basson – and bought into a coffee shop 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 mask any early errors they might make.

Mischievous name

And then, over a few whiskeys, they decided to change the business’s name to Bootlegger for its masculine, slightly mischievous, community-centric, but also rule-breaking connotations.

Bloem initially took the name to heart, selling beans from the boot of his car, often on the journey from the roaster in Riviersonderend and Cape Town.

At this stage the idea was for Bootlegger to be a retail coffee business, but after moving the roaster to the Sea Point location, mainly for convenience sake, they realised they might as well sell a few cups of coffee to the public from there too.

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

Business Insider SA: Read the full article