WORDS: LISA WITEPSKI IMAGES: SUPPLIED & SHUTTERSTOCK
Jonathan Robinson was met with a great deal of skepticism when he first introduced a range of single blend from Africa. But, 15 years later, the Bean There brand is stronger than ever.
Jonathan has been coffee crazy since his grandmother made him his first cup of joe when he was just 12. So, when he first encountered the fair-trade model while on an around-the-world road trip back in 2001, he was quick to spot its potential. “I was intrigued by the fact that you get to run a business you love, while impacting the lives of small-scale farmers,” he enthuses.
Consumers and industry alike took a little longer to see his vision. Jonathan recalls that, at the time, Italian blends were all the rage for coffee lovers. The idea of a single blend from an African country left them shaking their heads. “In fact,” he says, “South Africa’s biggest broker in coffee told me that I would never be able to make a business in African coffee.”
Fast forward 15 years, and the growing ubiquity of Bean There coffee – at retailers, in restaurants and other hospitality ventures, as well as the brand’s eponymous coffee shop at Auckland Park’s 44 Stanley Street – proves just how wrong those naysayers were.
Jonathan attributes Bean There’s army of fans to the quality of the product. “In the beginning, we spent a lot of time educating consumers by, for example, holding blind tastings. People around the world have finally woken up to the fact that the best coffee comes from Africa.”
The superior nature of Bean There’s coffee has also shut down sceptics who believed that fair trade was little more than a handout. This is a view that Jonathan challenges fiercely, asserting that the model is about paying people fairly for an excellent product. He’s proud of the growth Bean There has helped spur for producers, thanks to its philosophy of operating fairly.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? “My favourite quote is ‘turnover is vanity, profit is vanity, cashflow is reality’. You’ll find that’s true as soon as you hit your first challenge. Also, remember that whenever you start a business, you’re always a little too optimistic. Things always take longer, and cost more, than you thought they would.”
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