This article forms part of SME South Africa’s Youth Month 2018 series ‘A Seat at the Table’ – an exploration of SA Youth’s efforts to step up and effect positive change. Follow all our #YouthMonth2018 coverage here.
In 2012 entrepreneurs Hezron Louw and Andrew Leeuw did what many young South Africans are being encouraged to do, that is find an opportunity and figure out how to make it happen. What they achieved next is now the stuff of legends.
From selling gourmet fare out of a concession trailer at Arts on Main in Johannesburg, Sumting Fresh is now a globally recognised food brand loved the world over for its creative cuisine and exuberant service style.
The Johannesburg-based street style food business specialises in Asian, American and European-inspired flavours and can be found at many major artisan markets and festivals such as the Fourways Farmer’s Market as well as big music and culture festivals like Oppikoppi and Mieliepop. They also offer private and corporate catering services and have a standalone restaurant based in Norwood.
Energy and innovation
What’s remarkable about Louw’s success is that he had no chef’s training. He previously worked as a banker for one of the four major banks and has an accountancy degree.
The company comes from humble beginnings. Both founders quit their day jobs in 2012. Six years later they have built a brand that is known beyond SA borders. In 2015, the brand was listed by The Guardian as one of the best street food style stalls in the world, based on the opinion of bloggers and food experts and was praised for its energetic and innovative approach to customer service which includes “launching into song, chant catchphrases and joke with the punters as they take and prepare their orders”.
Louw is now also a respected voice in the food world. He took part in the televised cooking competition ‘Top Chef South Africa‘ in 2016 where he placed 7th overall. He has also starred in his own television show, ‘Tyers and Braaiers’ alongside South African comedian Nik Rabinowitz, in it the duo travel across the country in search of unique and scenic braai experiences.
He has also been recognised for his entrepreneurial skills, in 2017 he received the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
I hope to have Sumting Fresh at a stage that I can buy back my time and spend my days with family and friend
Just do it! – Louw shares his journey on building a serious business based on sharing happiness.
On how he built a fun and creative brand
We have evolved a culture that is fun and innovative within the business, ensuring that we have happy staff and happy customers to drive this culture. As they get more excited about the brand so do I. It’s a circle of joy.
On the pros and cons of being a self-taught chef and entrepreneur
Pros – I have no rules that restrict me in my cooking, I am able to do any style of food at any time. Cons – It is harder to be recognised as a chef in the chef community.
On the challenges they faced as a creative youth-run business
Most foodies just thought of us as a market stall for Saturday and Sunday’s with a limited menu. We opened up our first restaurant in Norwood and that has changed people’s perception of what we are capable of.
On how he has proven himself as a chef and entrepreneur
Being young and fairly new to the food industry most people didn’t see me as a serious entrepreneur, I turned that around by winning the Tsogo Sun entrepreneur of the year 2017. I think people never thought that I could cook at all as I have no formal chef training, I entered Top Chef South Africa and came in 7th place, higher than other professionally trained chefs.
On the sacrifices he has had to make
Time has probably been the greatest sacrifice, I’ve put 90% of my waking hours into the business, my family and friends have seen so much less of me. Eventually, I hope to have Sumting Fresh at a stage that I can buy back my time and spend my days with family and friends.
On what he credits their success to
The support we have received from our customers, close family, staff and a side of hard work and determination.
On Sumting Fresh’s future plans
What’s next for us is a few more restaurants to cement ourselves as the street food kings of Johannesburg and then it’s on to our unique sauces and apparel range. Then we take this baby international. Asia looks good, the UK and Australia will be within our reach as well.