Auctions, DIY and R120,000 in crypto. Here’s how a KZN couple funded their dream cafe.

Robert Wallbridge and Paige Howland (Facebook)

  • A young couple from KwaZulu-Natal have documented the journey to opening their country farm cafe on social media.
  • It cost them almost R350,000 to start the business. They used money from their personal savings, a personal loan and R120,000 worth of crypto investments
  • They capitalized on auctions and ways to save money and cut costs.
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It took Paige Howland and Robert Wallbridge just four months and around R350,000 to bring their dream café to life.

What would have been a vegetable grocer quickly became the Renishaw Café, a cozy establishment inspired by a country farmhouse in Scottburgh, on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

The idea to start their own café came about after several visits to Wallbridge’s mother, who lives in Renishaw Village, Scottburgh retirement village. During these visits, they realized there was no place they could all go for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.

Shortly after moving to the South Coast for work, the two began drafting their business plan for the store in November 2021. With limited experience in the hospitality industry, the couple managed a tea party before the official opening and began trading on March 27.

cafe, business, entrepreneur, renishaw

They celebrated the cafe’s opening with a buffet. (Facebook)

Wallbridge, 22, a former barista, and Howland, 23, a former waitress, had one goal: to create a time capsule that would take their customers back in time. The cafe is located in a country house, on what used to be the estate’s rum distillery and sugar mill, and they wanted visitors to feel like they’re back in those days.

cafe, business, entrepreneur, renishaw

Every day, the café unveils a “cake of the day”. Their recent cakes have been granadilla and vanilla; pinacolato and cake with raspberries and elderflowers. (Instagram)

cafe, business, entrepreneur, renishaw

That’s how they did…

Shop financing

Wallbridge, an accounting student, is also a junior accountant at Renishaw Village. He took on the role of managing the finances of their little haven.

Thanks to their keen interest in investing, the couple used R120,000 in crypto investments for the business. “We also had personal savings of around R70,000 which we invested in coffee,” Howland said. She added that they had requested additional financial assistance to complete the finishing touches for the store.

Howland has resigned from his position as a mental health practitioner and works at the cafe full time. The most difficult aspect of financing the business, she says, was the small costs that piled up and weren’t accounted for.

Although the couple sat down and wrote a tight business plan, they encountered minor setbacks along the way: “To be honest, there were a lot of costs that we didn’t consider and which have really eaten away at our budget,” she added.

To cut costs, the couple prioritized certain projects over others, which meant cutting the interior design budget.

cafe, business, entrepreneur, renishaw

Among their projects was the acquisition of an Italina pizza oven.

As the creator of both, Howland’s passion lies in many things, but her first love, you might say, is interior design. She hopes that one day they can fulfill another dream of turning one of the old houses in the village into a guesthouse and establishing their vegetarian grocery store in the cafe.

cafe, business, entrepreneur, renishaw

The cafe’s interior design of rustic wallpaper, steel pipes and wooden furniture adopts an industrial theme commemorating the village’s history

Watercolors of beetles hang in the shop painted by Paige…

…as well as their must-have DIY chandelier, sanded and painted white, which shimmers on the ceiling.

“It was very important to us to put our blood, sweat and tears into this coffeeshop in order to save as much as possible,” the couple said.

They took an old window frame and turned it into the store’s menu board that now displays their menu curated by their chef and sous chef.

They managed to save thousands of dollars on their furniture because they designed and made the tables themselves. They also cut costs by researching used sets and buying at auctions.

Being a good negotiator came in handy in making sure they had enough cash on hand. Instead of paying contractors in full, they negotiated to split payments over two months, ensuring they had enough money to pay all of their contractors.

In addition to finding innovative ways to cut costs, they knew they had to consider loss and waste in their development phase. Some costs have been factored in, like trying out their new recipes.

It is virtually impossible to start an establishment without taking losses into account, they say. Every morning it costs the shop R30.00 worth of coffee and milk – this is only to test the coffee machine and make sure it is working on all cylinders before serving customers. “It’s important to know where you’re losing money and monitor those costs to make sure your loss is covered elsewhere,” they said.

Within the first week of their opening, the cafe was fully booked largely thanks to the community who marketed their business through word of mouth.

“We were very grateful to have a space like no other, so people were excited to try something new,” Howland said.

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