Coffee culture has evolved so much in the last few years in South Africa that its almost less culture, more cult. South Africans who once only knew instant and filter varieties, now have a plethora of excellent coffee brands to chose from; what has been nurtured over time is a fastidious group of coffee lovers that demand and appreciate the best. Although we’ve taken some time to catch on, we’re now well and truly up to speed.
David Donde is credited as one of the pioneers behind the development of coffee culture in South Africa. Having had a busy career in journalism, he decided to turn his personal interest in coffee into a career. He started by co-founding his first specialty roastery in Cape Town, and after a split from that enterprise, he opted to do something new and exceptional, hence the birth of Truth Coffee Culture. Donde says, “I found the right people to surround myself with and the rest, as they say, is history…”.
CRUSH: Being a business owner in an established market is fraught with challenges; doing the same in an emerging market, even more so. So what are the toughest hurdles?
David Donde: Initially, in any business customers and money are the obstacles. As things progress towards success, it becomes about weeding out mediocrity, striving for the extraordinary and finding a way to entice and keep great people around you.
C: We believe an entrepreneurial spirit is a cornerstone for success in an emerging economy, your thoughts?
DD: I have never been one to ‘take’ a job. And yes, to live in an affluent, ordered society requires the removal of poverty. Slicing the pie better will help no-one. We need entrepreneurs and even smaller scale, self-employed people to make the wave of change, in order to break our gorgeous country out of a poverty-violence-bitter spiral that we could so easily be sucked into forever. And, yes creating Truth has created many jobs directly, and many more indirectly, improving the lives of more than a hundred people.
C: What was the journey like from the moment the idea hit, to actually opening the doors of the first Truth?
DD: Oh, it was the usual entrepreneurial overnight success. Five odd years of slogging away with dreams being questioned and principles tested. And then we hit tipping point, and international recognition…
The food and beverage industry has its own unique set of challenges, such as licenses and food safety regulations. David’s tip for someone wanting to get into this industry is to “Have a plan or concept, get it off of the ground, try it! Then deliberate on how to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”
If you haven’t yet experienced Truth Coffee in Buitenkant St, you need to.
‘Having been called ‘the best coffee shop in the world’ by MSN Travel and being nominated for various design awards, it should be on any coffee lover’s bucket list, or for anyone with an appreciation for design. The focal point inside Truth is the behemoth Probat roaster aptly named Collosus. Designed around that is an edgy space with the futuristic, industrial vibe that is steampunk. Haldane Martin, one of SA’s most talented industrial designers, is behind this award-winning space.
When discussing the look he apparently turned to David and said, “You know what you are David? Steampunk!” and thus the hunt for the perfect HQ was on. What resulted was the conversion of a warehouse space on Buitenkant Street which, once stripped, showed how perfect it really was, with cast iron pillars, a trussed roof and original stone walls. Each piece of the interior was designed by Haldane and his team.
So, from a man who brought this coffee culture to our shores, where to from here? In David’s opinion… “bigger, better, more varied, more approachable, more flavourful, more geeky! It will split into a zillion different deserving directions. Man it will be a fun rollercoaster to cling onto!”
Our final question to David as he reflects on the business thus far – what has been the proudest moment?
DD: Recognition wise, being called the best café in the world, but really? The look on someone’s face when they experience bliss in our cup for the first time!
Truth runs a barista training school at its Buitenkant Street premises.
Check the Truth website for more details.