From a ship container side hustle to almost 60 stores countrywide

 ·10 Jun 2024

Plato Coffee, a South African success story, has rapidly transformed from its modest beginnings selling coffee out of a container in Centurion to a burgeoning empire of 58 stores nationwide in just over four years.

Launched in December 2019 by brothers Stephan and Petrus Bredell, the company has become synonymous with quality coffee and community engagement.

Today, Plato Coffee boasts a state-of-the-art roastery, operates 20 corporate-owned and 38 franchise stores, and employs around 350 people across South Africa.

However, their aspirations extend far beyond national borders. They are looking to go international, become a well-known lifestyle brand, “serve a billion cups with a smile, and become Africa’s largest coffee brand,” according to one owner, Stephan Bredell.

The journey

Plato Coffee co-founders Stephan (left) and Petrus (right) Bredell. Photo: Supplied

Several years ago, Stephan, who had started Moonshot Cafe, noticed the healthy gross profit margins that coffee had on its own. Being an avid entrepreneur, he pitched the idea to his fellow entrepreneurial-savvy brother Petrus.

From there, Plato was born, and the hustle began. In December 2019, the Bredell brothers opened a container in Centurion as part of their long-term plan to build a brand and spaces that encompass “great vibes, great personalities, and above all, great coffee.”

Petrus manned much of the operations in the beginning, with Stephan still in corporate before moving to Plato full-time. “If it weren’t for him, Plato wouldn’t have been able to operate in the beginning,” said Stephan.

Shortly after their opening, the Covid lockdown threw a spanner in the works, forcing them to close its doors for a short time.

The company, which was still relatively small at the time, was able to operate off an informal trader licence, selling coffee to people who were on their daily walk when Covid restrictions allowed it.

The evolution of the flagship Plato coffee container. Photo: Supplied

“That was actually such a special time because people became really attached and connected to the brand [and the people working for it],” said Stephan.

They then doubled down on their plans to create a larger community of Plato Coffee enthusiasts.

The rise of Plato

A Plato Coffee in Stellenbosch, Western Cape. Photo: Supplied

They began opening up shops across the country with the goal of providing quality coffee in a welcoming and aesthetically pleasing environment for people from all walks of life.

Their cafe locations focus on lifestyle centres and areas, which are often overlooked by other big coffee brands across the country, standing them in good stead.

Stephan said that focusing on lifestyle centers and ‘smaller towns’ has been deliberate, as Plato looks to establish good relationships with the communities in which it operates.

As a result, this built a solid and loyal customer base, who have helped propel their marketing through user-generated content.

In 2022, they rolled out their franchise model, which now sports 38 locations across the country on top of their 20 corporate-owned stores. They aim to open around 25 this year, and between 6-8 a month in 2025.

Given their increasing demand, they also opened their own roastery, called Blank Supplies, in March 2022.

Petrus, known as the Coffee Chief, has since moved over to Blank, where he serves as CEO. In this role, he oversees the supply of coffee stock to all Plato locations, ensuring consistent quality.

Stephan said that a massive contributor to their success has been on their heightened focus on employing kind, “friendly people,” which anchors the customer experience, and then focus on the nitty-gritty of barista training.

Every cup of coffee comes with a personalised message. Photo: Seth Thorne

“Above all, it’s about the people – the interactions that they have with the customers and the [rapport] that they build, on top of serving really lekker coffee,” said Stephan.

“A barista could make the best cup of coffee in the world, but if they are ‘snobbish’ or the experience is horrible for the customer, that coffee is no longer that nice,” he added.

Not all smooth sailing

Yet, behind their success lies a narrative of resilience and perseverance.

Stephan candidly acknowledges the years of trial and error that preceded Plato’s triumph, underscoring that his success is a result of the lessons he learned from failure.

Stephan said that “my 20s to 30s were my failure years – I had a lot of business failures, but without them, I would have never learned what I needed to” to make Plato a success.

He said that Plato is rather a 15-year journey marked by “grit and perseverance.”

He encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to accept the failures that they may face, but use all of them as important lessons for their next ventures.

Read: New global coffee chain launching in South Africa

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