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Why Café del Sol Are Intentionally Expanding Slowly

The Café del Sol brand has enjoyed steady growth over the last ten years — from a single store in Olivedale a decade ago to three busy and highly-regarded restaurants today. Entrepreneur spoke to the three founders about their approach to growth while maintaining superior quality.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Chiara Viljoen, Ryan Viljoen and Luciana Traccani
  • Company: Café del Sol
  • Contact: cafedelsol.co.za

Café del Sol has seen steady growth, but it hasn’t enjoyed the sort of rapid expansion we’re used to in this age of franchising and hyper-scaling. Ten years ago, the founders had one restaurant — today they have three. But this relatively slow expansion of the brand has been intentional. The founders have eschewed franchising in favour of a very different growth model.

What has been your approach to growth?

Chiara Viljoen: We’ve self-funded every restaurant, which hasn’t been easy. We couldn’t expand quickly, and it put pressure on our cash flow, but it gave us total control. We never intended Café del Sol to become a large franchise.

We wanted it to have an intimate feel, and we wanted a focus on food quality and hospitality. We also always said that the maximum number of restaurants we’d open was three. There are three of us, so with three restaurants someone can always keep an eye on every store. By limiting the brand to three stores, we can make sure that quality is always maintained.

Luciana Traccani: Quality has been key for us. We never wanted to compromise on quality. We took the stance early on that we’d rather make less of a profit than compromise the experience we offered. The most important thing for us was to build the reputation of the brand.

Related: 11 Secrets Of South African Entrepreneurs On Making It To The Top

What has been your biggest barrier to growth?

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Ryan Viljoen: When you’re funding a business yourself, money will always limit your rate of growth. But we viewed it as a positive, since it forced us to manage our growth carefully and not expand too quickly. That said, you need to manage your cash flow very carefully, otherwise you’ll run into trouble.

Chiara: Another barrier is finding the right people. When you’re incredibly focused on quality and customer service, it can be hard to find employees who can provide the customer experience you’re after.

How did you know the time had come to expand?

Ryan: In our case, it was largely dictated by our cash flow. If you’re going to fund your own growth, you simply need to wait until you have the money to do it.

Chiara: It’s also about trusting your gut. The business will tell you when it’s ready to grow, and you’ll just know when the time is right. For example, a location that you’ve always wanted might become available.

What do you do when times are tough and prices skyrocket?

Ryan: It can be hard. Growing the business usually needs to take a backseat, at least for a while. Price increases, especially when you pride yourself on only using the best, can place massive strain on the business. When the rand takes a dip, prices go up, but they never go back down again.

We try to absorb as much of that as possible. Only when this becomes impossible, do we pass some of it on to the customer. 

Related: 46 Facts You Should Know About Entrepreneurship (Infographic)

How do you go about managing your people?

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Luciana: With three stores, we employ a lot of people, which is why we have taken the step to hire a full-time HR person. As the founders, we’re working hard to let the managers handle day-to-day staff issues. It’s not easy, since the staff have a tendency to come straight to us, but you need to be firm, otherwise you won’t have time for anything else. We’re still involved in all three businesses on a daily basis, but we want to empower management as well.

Ryan: You need to have the right processes in place, and you need to audit things regularly. You can’t micromanage, but make sure that you always know what’s going on in the business. We check every store, every day.

How do you maintain decent margins?

Chiara: You need to look carefully at how and where you buy. It seems obvious that you should buy from a wholesaler, for instance, but that isn’t necessarily the case. For example, because we use fresh, high quality produce, we found that it’s sometimes better to buy some items from a retailer like Woolworths. Because the items have been chopped and prepped, there is virtually no wastage. So even though we might be paying more, we throw less away, which ends up saving us money.

Luciana: Also, always value the relationships you have with your suppliers. Be firm and negotiate on prices, but also understand how their businesses work and how they make their money.

Related: RocoMamas Founder Brian Altriche’s On Fabulous Failures And Visualising Success

Take note

Not every business should be scaled as rapidly as possible. Sometimes, slow and steady growth is far better.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.

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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?

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I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.

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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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