Hezron Louw and Andrew Leeuw did what many young South Africans are being encouraged to do – that is to find an opportunity and go figure out how to make it happen. What they achieved next is now the stuff of legends.
Sumting Fresh was launched in 2012. They started the business with R16000 between them, donated kitchen equipment, courage and passion – it wasn’t an easy ride and they thought about quiting on more than one occasion, but success is all the sweeter now.
The Joburg-based street style food business specialises in American, Asian and European-inspired flavours and can be found at many major artisan markets and festivals such as the Fourways Farmer’s Market as well as music and culture festivals like Mieliepop and Oppikoppi.
They also offer corporate and private catering services and have a stand-alone restaurant in Norwood.
Sumting Fresh’s rise to the top teaches us that the key to success often comes down to hardwork, perseverance and never backing down from challenges.
According to Andrew, the idea for Sumting Fresh really started in 2009. He was working at the Melrose Arch Hotel as a chef but throughout most of his life, he had this dream of opening his own restaurant.
During that time, the recession hit the markets and he got demoted from his position as sous chef, he felt really low.
Later on that day, he had a couple of drinks with his brother, who then asked, “why don’t you just do your own thing?” – he’d been a chef for 9 years at that stage, so the idea of trying out business by himself sounded easy.
His mother came up with the name, Sumting Fresh….
Months later, he ran into Hezron Louw again, they had met previously by chance in a taxi.
Hezron confessed to Andrew that he studied accounting and was working at the bank, a job he hated so much. Andrew also told him that he loved cooking but hated where he was working.
After some time and considerations, Hezron left his job at a bank and Andrew quit the lodge where he was a chef, and they officially launched Sumting Fresh in 2012.
Problem number one quickly arose – start-up capital….
Hezron got R150 000 from his pension thinking it would provide them with the necessary funds enough to keep the lights on while they still tried to get the business off the ground. Instead, the R150 000 cleared off his debts.
According to Hezron, he was living with his girlfriend and they managed to borrow R20K from his mom, which they used to buy the trailer.
Andrew’s mom gave them some kitchen equipments and his brother bought them a coffee machine, a neighbour gave them a set of knives – that was it, that’s what they had to start Sumting Fresh.
They then put the trailer on the streets of Johannesburg at Arts on Main on the 24th of June 2012.
According to Hezron, food trucks were already taking off, and they decided the market needed a gourmet option. Their first trading day was a complete flop.
They offered Cape Malay Fish Cakes and Umami burgers, interesting meals they thought people would like but to their surprise, they didn’t.
In response to that, they took their food truck to Bekker Road in Midrand, and parked alongside some competitors who were offered more traditional meals like steak and pap.
They were determined to be different from the pack — to bring something new and fresh like their name suggested but once again, they failed.
For over 2 years, Hezron and Andrew brought their trailer to Bekker Road, determined to stick with their vision of a gourmet food trailer. They were making enough to pay their suppliers and petrol.
Every new year’s day, Hezron and Andrew would quit but a day or two later, they would talk each other into giving the business another run.
Miles Khubeka, founder of Vuyo’s, came by one day and tried out their chicken wings, which he enjoyed. He started to around frequently, asking them to work for him. Eventually, they gave in. They parked the trailer and went to work.
On their first day at work, they were given a lunch hour but they hadn’t brought any food, so they just sat the lunch out. The following day, they arrived with their lunchboxes, sat down to eat and couldn’t believe what they were doing.
They realized they wanted to be entrepreneurs but they were busy working for someone else with a lunch hour, so they quit that job and took their trailer back to Bekker Road.
Miles had a stand at the Fourways Farmers Market, and asked if whether the partners could help him out during weekends — they agreed and that’s where things started to pop-off for Sumting Fresh.
While there, Hezron met one of the managers and was so determined to get a stall from her. He kept pitching ideas to her and was always rejected but after seeing how Hezron wasn’t gonna stop stop anytime soon, she eventually gave in to make him stop.
The following weekend, the queue at their stall was so long it was even blocking other vendors. They were forced to move to a bigger stall. They added Jam Jars and grew their brand from there.
From the Fourways Farmers Market, they then got into the Neighbourgoods Market, and the business finally started to gain some traction.
According to Hezron, the biggest shift for Sumting Fresh came when they began to understand their target market.
He realized they were focused on the lunchtime crowd, but the people who really appreciated their gourmet offerings, were weekend crowds – people who were looking for an experience, not a quick, affordable meal to fill the gap.
Change of scenery had Andrew and Hezron meeting people who were into artisanal food. They were approached by Braaimaster, which Andrew participated in, and then Top Chef South Africa, which Hezron joined, even though he isn’t a classically trained chef.
Having lack of resources forced the the partners to be creative…
When they couldn’t afford to buy a sweet-chilli sauce at Makro for R275, they googled how to make sweet chilli sauce and made their very own.
They couldn’t get it as thick as other sauces, or as spicy, but in the end, it turned out great and most importantly, people loved it.
In 2016, the partners launched a restaurant in Norwood, a dream they’d had since 2012 but couldn’t afford to make it a reality.
The same year saw an upgrade of the trailer to a double-decker bus, which they bought from a local church. The bus is the foundation of Sumting Fresh’s corporate and eventing catering business.
According to Hezron, the food industry is incredibly competitive, as they need to keep shifting the bar higher and higher. The barriers to entry are very low, anyone can start – but making a success of your brand is a lot tougher.
The two partners have gone to hell and back to build Sumting Fresh, but that experience has formed the foundation of what the business is today. Their success is so much sweeter after suffering for so long.