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5 Minutes with Vida e Caffé Founder Grant Dutton

Brand brilliance meets staff satisfaction to create a dynamic coffee house brand

Juliet Pitman



Grant Dutton of Vida E Caffe

When Grant Dutton wakes up these days he smells more than just the coffee. The sweet smell of success lingers in the air as well. The managing director of the hugely successful Vida e Caffé chain of European-style sidewalk coffee bars started out as a 40% joint venture partner in the Cavendish branch in Cape Town, the third shop opened by founders Brad Armitage and Rui Estevez.

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“At the time, Vida was really a trendy Kloof Street brand and to be honest we weren’t sure the concept was going to work in the suburbs,” he recalls, “But the Cavendish branch opened to ridiculous figures and it was then that I realised this brand had legs.”


Stretching those legs to their full potential became his obsession. After successfully opening the Willowbridge and Greenpoint branches, Dutton pooled his financial resources, approached Tommy Crow and Patrick Hamilton-Russel of Alpha Capital for extra funding and bought out the original shareholders.

“I then got four guys who were willing to put down money in order to take up pivotal roles in the business; some of them borrowed money to do it. I had learnt from running other businesses in the past the importance of empowering people through ownership,” he says.

Sean Bond joined as marketing manager; Lloyd Stocks, project manager, built the shops; Paul Osborne took the reins as financial director and Dutton’s brother, William, became operations director.“They make such a strong team – they all care about the business because they own a piece of it. They live this brand,” says Dutton.

He’s turned the building of strong teams into something of an art

Vida-E-Caffe-EspressoVisit any one of the Vida outlets and what stands out, apart from the red branding and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, is the staff. “They have been a vital key to getting things right,” he says, “A lot of our regulars and even the media have picked up on and love the fact that when you put a tip in their tip glass, they all do some kind of chant. That’s not taught – it comes from them.” It’s no secret that motivated, energised staff who take the initiative are not to be found under every bush, so what’s Dutton’s secret?

Firstly, there’s training. New recruits – known as ‘shoes’ because they still have to be ‘worn in’ – are seconded to existing stores where they learn about every section of the store, getting to know Vida and its brand  inside out. All of Vida’s managers started out as ‘shoes’ – Dutton is passionate about development and won’t employ ‘external’ people to manage the stores. And then there’s his approach to staff upliftment. Realising that Kloof Street staff were battling to get to work from outlying areas, Dutton bought a house in Bokaap providing them with a comfortable home close to work. More houses followed because, as Dutton explains, “A baker living in the township has to get up at four in the morning to be at the shop at five to bake. He gets home at seven in the evening. No matter what anyone tells you, that doesn’t make for a happy employee.” And, as Dutton has discovered, happy employees are loyal employees.

Upliftment initiatives, coupled with incentive schemes that afford managers the opportunity to earn up to 40% of their salary extra each month, have meant that Vida’s staff are not as vulnerable to poaching from competitors. “They live the brand because the brand takes care of them,” he says. Which brings us to the company’s other huge success factor. “We went a long way to building a brand before we built a coffee shop chain,” says Dutton. From a loyalty programme that gives back to customers 5% of what they spend, to the company’s in-house magazine Obrigado,Vida’s brand, like its name, is all about experiences centred on ‘life and coffee’. The company has also made clever use of ‘marketing spaces’ in the stores – things like coffee cup sleeves, tags and holders – to showcase different brand partners like Levi and Look & Listen. “I think the thing we’ve done best is to create a brand that people aspire to be a part of,” says Dutton. As they say in Portugal, Parabéns!



  1. derekgardiner

    Aug 5, 2012 at 01:21

    I’m sure they have more than 19 outlets at this point in time?

  2. Witblitz

    Sep 3, 2014 at 18:05

    Someone needs to let them know that their coffee really is not what it use to be. In fact they make one of the worst cups around.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

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From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


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Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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