Sumting Fresh Founders Started Their Food Truck With R20 000 And Gifted Utensils
Hezron Louw and Andrew Leeuw started Sumting Fresh with nothing. It wasn't an easy ride and they thought about throwing in the towel on more than one occasion, but success is all the sweeter now.
- Entrepreneur: Hezron Louw
- Designation: Co-founder of Sumting Fresh
- Visit: www.sumtingfresh.co.za
Hezron Louw and Andrew Leeuw started their business, Sumting Fresh in 2012 with a R16 000 trailer, which they converted into a food truck. It was the beginning of a beautiful dream — Hezron quit his job at a bank and Andrew left the lodge where he was a chef to run his own business. Unfortunately, this dream would be three years in the making.
Problem number one was funds. Hezron cashed in his pension thinking it would provide them with start-up capital and enough cash to pay the bills while they got the business off the ground. Instead, the R150 000 paid off his debt.
"We started with nothing," says Hezron. "I was living with my girlfriend and we managed to borrow R20 000 from my mom, which we used to buy the trailer, Andrew's mom gave us some kitchen utensils and his brother bought us a coffee machine, a neighbour gave us a set of knives. That was it. That's what we had to start."
The idea was simple. Food trucks were already taking off, and Andrew and Hezron decided the market needed a gourmet option. "Our first trading day was at Arts on Main and it was a complete flop," Hezron recalls. "We were offering Cape Malay Fish Cakes, Umami burgers, interesting meals that we thought people would like. They didn't."
Hard lessons and harder decisions
And so Hezron and Andrew took their food truck to Bekker Road in Midrand, and parked alongside competitors who were offering more traditional meals like pap and steak. "We were determined to be different — something new and fresh, which was where our name, Sumting Fresh, came from. We failed."
For two years Hezron and Andrew shlepped their trailer to Bekker Road, determined to stick with their vision of a gourmet food trailer. "We were making enough to pay suppliers and petrol… sometimes. We were still borrowing money and ran the business out of my then girlfriend's garage. And we ate a lot of chicken."
Every new year's day the partners would quit, and a day or two later they'd have talked each other into giving the business another go. And then Miles Khubeka, founder of Vuyo's tried their chicken wings and loved them. "He came around frequently, asking us to work for him. Eventually, we gave in. We parked the trailer and went to work."
That first day, Andrew and Hezron were given a lunch hour. They hadn't brought any food, so it was basically an enforced one-hour break. The following day, they arrived with lunchboxes, sat down to eat at their "lunch hour' and couldn't believe what they were doing.
"We wanted to be entrepreneurs, and here we were, working for someone else with a lunch hour. We quit and took the trailer back to Bekker Road."
Finding new opportunities
Miles had a stand at the Fourways Farmers Market though, and he asked Andrew and Hezron to help him out on weekends — and that's where things started to change for Sumting Fresh.
"I met the manager and was determined to get a stall. I kept pitching ideas to her and she kept saying no, until eventually I think she just caved in to make me stop. She gave us a small stall that was hidden away, and we launched with our Goujon Chicken. We had 20 portions and we sold out.
"The following weekend the queue at our stall was so long it was blocking other vendors and so we were moved to a bigger stall. We added Jam Jars and built our brand from there."
In the interim, Hezron and Andrew had both become fathers, were supported by their partners and could have decided to quit on numerous occasions. They didn't. "I live and breathe this business and brand," says Hezron. "We just had to keep pushing forward until we made it."
From the Fourways Farmers Market, Sumting Fresh got into the Neighbourgoods Market, and the business finally started to gain some traction.
"The big shift came when we began to understand who our target market was," explains Hezron. "We had been focused on a working lunchtime crowd. The people who appreciated our gourmet offering were weekend crowds who were looking for an experience — not a quick, affordable meal to fill the gap. Once we understood that key difference, we could really work on building our brand."
Because Sumting Fresh changed its market focus, Andrew and Hezron started meeting people that were into artisanal food. They were approached by Braaimaster, which Andrew participated in, and then Top Chef South Africa, which Hezron joined, even though he isn't a classically trained chef.
"Everywhere we go, people know us. I believe our passion and energy really shine through, and affect our customers. We're fun. We love what we do, and we offer delicious food that comes with an experience."
The two have gone through fire and back to build their business, but that experience has formed the foundation of what the business is today. "Our success is so much sweeter after suffering for so long. We appreciate the fact that we've made it, and we're living the dream."
Bootstrapping and creativity
Bootstrapping the business has also forced the partners to be creative. For example, they needed a sweet-chilli sauce, but couldn't afford the R275 to buy it at Makro.
"Instead of giving up, we googled how to make sweet chilli sauce and made our own. We couldn't get it as thick as other sauces, or as spicy, but it turned out that we had something different and people loved it. It's called the "love sauce' by our customers and we've never changed the recipe."
Making a plan is in Sumting Fresh's DNA. The partners opened a restaurant in Norwood in 2016, a dream they'd had since 2012 but couldn't afford to make a reality. "It was better that we couldn't start with a restaurant. We've been able to bootstrap even that, doing everything ourselves — I'm a tiler and a welder now — but there were so many lessons we needed to learn before we could take this step. We would have lost our money if we'd done it any earlier."
2016 also saw an upgrade of the trailer to a double-decker bus, which Andrew and Hezron bought from a local church. "The bus's name was Joy, and we had to go to church for six weeks to be able to buy her — it was one of the pastor's conditions." Because they were at Fourways Farmer's Market on Sundays, that meant Friday nights.
The bus is the foundation of Sumting Fresh's corporate and eventing catering business, which complements the restaurant and food market sides of the company.
"We now have a factory in Bramley, the restaurant and we own Africa's largest food truck. Everything has been achieved through organic growth. We haven't changed our lifestyles, which means we can invest everything back into the business."
The growth focus is franchising, which is why the factory is so important. Sumting Fresh processes all its own food, and Hezron and Andrew are focusing on getting their systems and processes to the point where they can easily be replicated as the blueprint for a franchise, with the full supply chain handled from head office.
"We spent three years struggling, and the next three years growing from strength to strength, but we've learnt so many lessons. The food industry is incredibly competitive. We need to keep shifting the bar higher and higher. The barriers to entry are petty low, but truly making a success of your brand is much tougher.
"Quality, standards, a great vibe and continuously adding new products all work together to make our brand a success. Support structures are also incredibly important — we couldn't have done this without our family and friends supporting us. At the end of the day though, anything is possible — if you believe and don't quit when things get tough. There's always a solution."
Related: 5 Ways to Succeed As A Startup