Growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle Magubane worked as a gardener and pizza maker while in high school to make ends meet. Today, he owns a successful coffee brand, with products available in more than 350 Pick n Pay stores across South Africa.
Magubane was born in the small village of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal and, at age 16, was forced to provide for himself and his siblings following his mother’s death. The budding entrepreneur juggled two jobs, gardening and making pizzas, while in high school. After finishing school, he relocated to Johannesburg in search of better opportunities.
But with no money to further his studies, Magubane started seeking out potential training programmes and apprenticeships. In 2003, he was selected to train at the Ciro Coffee Academy, kickstarting his interest and eventual career in the coffee business.
Mentored by coffee connoisseur Roberto Monterrage, Magubane landed his first job in the industry as a trained barista. Over the next decade, Magubane continued to grow his skill and knowledge, working hard to improve his clients’ sales.
In 2012, Magubane decided to go it alone, creating Sihle’s Brew coffee brand.
“I had a passion to create different flavours of coffee,” explained Magubane.
“The South African palate is very sweet in terms of taste profile, so I bought high-quality beans from Ethiopia and roasted them to help balance the sweetness and citrus.”
Within a month, Magubane had created five unique blends from his small factory in North Riding, Randburg. A year later, he hired his first staff member. During that time, he’d managed to secure his first client, a local coffee shop that ordered a 6kg bag of Sihle’s Brew every month.
But money remained tight in those early years, with proceeds from sales being pumped back into packaging. When his car was written off, Magubane struggled to deliver orders.
“The banks wouldn’t look at me as my turnover was down, and they didn’t understand my vision,” said Magubane
“I caught three taxis to deliver one box of coffee. It took me the whole day and the customer never knew what it took to deliver that order. I was determined, as each order meant I could grow my business.”
Ambitious to grow his businesses, but without the technical know-how, Magubane got his break through opportunity to study at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) through their supplier development programme. “After the course, I revisited my business plan and model,” he said, “from there, everything began to change.”
Magubane managed to secure new equipment, including his first coffee roaster, for his small factory in 2018. He then approached retailers.
Magubane spent the next five years banging on the doors of South Africa’s biggest retailers, with some Spar and Food Lover’s Market stores showing interest. He also attended workshops hosted by Pick n Pay’s Enterprise and Supplier Development programme.
Pick n Pay listed four products of Sihle’s Brew in August 2021. Sales from these 50 Pick n Pay stores tripled within a month. Today, Magubane’s blends are in more than 350 Pick n Pay stores.
In addition to selling Sihle’s Brew, Magubane now also produces coffee for Pick n Pay’s ground coffee, available in more than 500 stores.
“We worked together for two years to launch a Caramel Fudge, Vanilla and Hazelnut ground coffee under the PnP brand. It’s a really special blend as it has a plant-based flavouring and is GMO-free,” said Magubane.
Sihle’s Brew now employs 23 people, with Pick n Pay’s demand growing his staff complement by more than 60%. Magubane still operates from his original factory but hopes to move to a bigger facility soon.
“When I started, I was roasting coffee once a week and doing around 5-10kg a month. Now I am roasting over 2,000kg of coffee every day for Pick n Pay alone,” said Magubane.
Sihle’s Brew also operates two coffee shops called Sihle’s Brew Barista Love in Woodmead and Northview in Johannesburg. Drawing inspiration from his early days as a trainee barista, Magubane offers free training and has, to date, trained more than 20 baristas.
“If anyone is given a chance to obtain training or skills, they will excel in their job,” said Magubane.
“The free training I received at Ciro and GIBS, and the mentorship from Pick n Pay have enabled me to develop my business. I want to equip others with the same opportunity.”