While working as a dishwasher at a coffee shop, Sikelela (“Siki”) Dibela had his eye on the baristas’ jobs. He admired the precision of their work and yearned for the chance to interact with customers like they did.
Dibela went on to overshoot that ambition considerably. Not only did he climb the corporate ladder to where he got to supervise the opening of a coffee shop in London, he also opened up his own café in his mom’s garage – a vibey spot now attracting people from far and wide.
Siki’s Koffee Kafe serves world-class coffee in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha. The café is a busy hub attracting entrepreneurs, students, police officials and community members at large. It has even served Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
The 31-year-old Dibela launched the coffee shop in 2016 after having worked in the coffee industry for nine years.
His introduction to the world of coffee started when he toiled as a dishwasher at Vida e Caffè. He remembers the sink of greasy dishes and dirty cups, but it wasn’t long before he started yearning for a new venture.
“Being the owner of my own business was not in my plans, the plan was to simply survive. After all, I went there to be a dishwasher, not to dream about other things,” he says.
Making moves, not excuses
It was soon clear that being the unsung hero of a restaurant was not his final destination.
The work of a barista intrigued him. The way in which the coffee was prepared, the attention to detail and interaction with people seemed exciting; much better than washing those greasy dishes.
He applied for training and was later promoted to the position of barista. From there on, his life-changing desire to grow led to Dibela being promoted to store manager. If that was not enough, he was asked to open a Vida store in London and to train their new staff.
“The overseas trip,” he says “was an eye opener. I realised just how many opportunities the industry had. I loved every moment of it, but at night I found myself worrying about the future. What would I do when I return home to Khayelitsha?”
The challenging conversations led to the globe-trotter plotting the idea of opening his own coffee shop in the township he grew up in. The task seemed almost impossible and very likely to fail, but his commitment, passion and dedication saw him through.
“Cape town and Stellenbosch are not my backyard; my backyard is Khayelitsha.” – SIKI DIBELA
Coffee culture is no longer only trendy in the more upmarket areas of Cape Town and the Winelands, and Dibela was on a mission to bring great coffee to the great people of his hood. He has no regrets opening his business in a neighbourhood where many people rely on government grants as their only source of income.
“Cape Town and Stellenbosch are not my backyard; my backyard is Khayelitsha,” he says.
“This is a place that people look at and say, ‘There’s no dreamers living here.’ But I want to change that mindset. I want to show people that it’s ok to want more from life even though your backyard is a township,” Dibela says.
Impacting Cape Town’s coffee culture
In 2016, he launched Siki’s Koffee Kafe from his mother’s garage. What he loves about his set-up is the unique culture and atmosphere it has created in the township.
With a seating area, a courtyard and a small internet café offering Wi-Fi, Dibela says the shop feels like a home away from home.
It was challenging to get people to come and use the space, though. He had to first challenge perceptions about coffee. Most of the people he targeted used to loved the more affordable instant coffee.
“The mindset of people about how they consume coffee eKasi needs to be changed. When I started sharing my vision with people, they were like, ‘What is wrong with this man? A coffee shop in the township? He must be out of his mind.’” Dibela recalls.
Thankfully, the lonely days spent at his empty café is a thing of the past. Today, the coffee shop attracts a diverse clientele from all over the Mother City.
Dibela is setting his goals high. He would like to get mobile and serve his coffee at events and markets outside of Khayelitsha. To do this, he needs to buy a mobile coffee machine and a car. He thinks of calling it “Siki’s Koffee on the move”.
“I want to impact Cape Town’s coffee culture. I want people to experience quality African coffee that is roasted and blended locally, and then made by quality baristas. My mission is to integrate communities with my coffee.”