When Shape Café started out, it underwent a metamorphosis that saw the birth, death and rebirth of its four branches. The business, founded by choreographer-turned-serial entrepreneur, Itumeleng Hlapane, went through the process of creation, destruction and recreation, and Hlapane believes that there is a lot of growth on the horizon. Shape Café has two branches in Emfuleni, one branch in Southgate Mall and another in Newtown.
He told Vutivi News that the café was established in 2010, but because of bad business decisions, it collapsed the following year. “I was a theatre performer and creative, and at the time I was based in France and there was this beautiful coffee shop we used to go to,” he said. “There would be a poet on the stage, someone playing an instrument and a visual artist drawing, and the atmosphere was amazing, so much so that I wanted to recreate the coffee shop experience.”
Hlapane then opened a café near Gandhi Square and it was frequented by his well-known celebrity friends. “My lack of business knowledge was what killed the business: I would arrive at the coffee shop whenever I wanted because I believed I could do what I pleased,” he said. “I would also have free coffee and food with my friends, and because there was no clear vision, we were an unstable brand.
“I would also go on tour and leave the business unattended, and as a result the business essentially tanked.” After learning his numerous lessons, Hlapane said that a chance encounter with a former lecturer who at that time worked at Rand Merchant Bank gave him an opportunity to revive the business. “I was offered an opportunity to attend the Gordon Institute of Business Science because she believed that I could do more than just be an artist, so I took the opportunity and got a scholarship in 2015,” he said.
This experience gave him the tools and motivation needed to revive the business, and so in 2016 Shape Café was registered, and the following year the business opened its first branch in Sebokeng. Shortly thereafter, he opened the branch in Southgate Mall. But even with his new business acumen, it has not been easy. His Sebokeng shop was affected by the unrest in July last year and Covid-19 also took its toll.
“My business was also severely affected by Covid-19, but thanks to being fully compliant, I was granted funding from all of the relief funds that I applied to, including the South African Relief Fund, AVBOB and the Unemployment Insurance Fund,” he said. Today, the business employs 15 people and also invests in other small businesses, including an online radio station and a clothing business.
The brand also owns a storage facility and a business that supplies small businesses with disposable food equipment including cups and plates. “Our 10-year plan is to have as many branches in the country and Africa, and to invest in as many small businesses as possible,” he said.