Coffee cowboys

Coffee barons: The Team from HEI cafe with some of their self-made product. A coffee brand, home-made jam are just some the products                                                                                                                                           Photo: Mfuneko Toyana


The students who run the Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative’s (HEI) recently opened coffee shop in Braamfontein, have been getting their aprons dirty proving that entrepreneurship and creativity go together, just as well as coffee and crepes.


Three weeks ago HEI café opened its narrow, wood-panelled doors and beckoned Braamfontein’s creative minds inside.

[pullquote]Beyond those doors is a coffee shop, a conference room, a library, an art gallery and a grandmother of a beige couch that could be auctioned off by next week.[/pullquote]

Good old hard work and determination seems to be the ingredient bringing together these disparate elements.

Early on Tuesday evening, as Braamfontein’s tall buildings emptied themselves out on to the streets and into buses and taxis. Phephisile Mathizerd, tapping on a laptop keyboard and fending off whistles from her cellphone, explained why HEI café was not just another coffee shop.

“It’s a conducive space,” Mathizerd said of the space furnished with odds and ends straight out of a postcard of 19th-century Paris.

“Everything we have here is from (Wits) Hospice, we’re using the space to help them sell their stuff,” she said.

The “library” books are from the Wits Hospice as well, and for R80 a month students can loan out up to four books a week.

The café also serves as a place for the entrepreneurs who work with HEI to display and sell their products, be it paintings or stuffed versions of the big five, to homemade jam and hand-carved furniture.

"Another one garçon": Howard Hamandishe is one of the barrista's at HEI trained by fellow Braamfontein coffee shop Post

“Another one garçon”: Howard Hamandishe is one of the barrista’s at HEI cafe trained by fellow Braamfontein coffee shop Post                                                                                                                                                                         Photo: Mfuneko Toyana


This Sunday they will be hosting their first furniture and art auction.

Barbara Copelovici explained HEI’s entrepreneurship program:

“We offer the entrepreneurs a ‘business-in-a-box’ worth R10 000.  A business account, basic start-up equipment and WiFi. If their business runs for more than three months, they can go to the Branson Centre for free,” Copelovici said.

She explained that from a pool of 100 entrepreneurs they had narrowed the number down to five of the best ideas, and worked with this group on a 6 to 12 months basis.

The menu, consisting solely of coffee and crepes, was inspired by French-born Copeloivci, one of the founders of HEI.

Everything at the café has a minimum, not a fixed price, and patrons are encouraged to pay more if they can.

All revenue generated by the cafe goes back into the Initiative’s programmes, and to paying interns and employees who work in the shop.



Coffee vele

HEI cafe is entirely student-run, using coffee as the basis for connecting creative minds.

The café is entirely student run.

For entrepreneurs to use the conference room in the quaint café, wedged in the alley between the Nando’s on Jorissen street and the Puma store on De Korte, is buy a coffee and a crepe.


For under R25, they are allowed use of the well-furnished conference room, access to Wifi, in-house computers, as well as help and advice from the staff.

HEI will also host a “speed dating” session this Friday.


Theko Moteane said the session would be on the same principle as match-making, except they would encouraging people to mingle and make business connections, rather than romantic ones, and establish the basis for future collaborations..


“This is where the rich meet the poor, where big corporates meet students,” Theko said.