Baker and entrepreneur Njabulo Sithole hard at work. PHOTO: Supplied

CAPE TOWN - For KwaZulu-Natal baker Njabulo Sithole, the journey towards fulfilling his childhood dream of owning a business has been long and hard.

But it has been worth it for the entrepreneur from Maphephetheni in Durban whose company Bakers Creationz now supplies retailers such as Spar, Pick ‘n Pay Express, BP Express, Inanda Cash & Carry, Fedics, Shell and Engen garage shops with cakes, muffins and signature coconut-coated snowballs.

The latest coup for Sithole, whose bakery also makes customized wedding cakes, is a recently concluded deal to supply Pick ‘n Pay stores throughout South Africa. 

It is an impressive fete for a man who grew up in a poor neighbourhoold where people believed that big dreams were not achievable and the youth only aspired to be employees but never employers.

But Sithole dared to dream big, and after attaining a diploma in business management and marketing, got an opportunity to work in the United Kingdom. 

There, he learned a lot about working in the food industry in London and shared a house with fellow South Africans where he had to take his turn at cooking duty, thus discovering his culinary passion.

Baker and entrepreneur Njabulo Sithole hard at work. PHOTO: Supplied

"By the end of the first week, I was cooking. By the end of the first month, I was the best cook in the house," Sithole said with a smile.

Sithole became inspired and started baking, reading cooking magazines, watching cooking shows and adding his own personal touch to recipes he found at the back of flour packets.

Upon returning to South Africa, he worked for high-end retailer Woolworths for six months before accepting an offer from start-up Mpilende Foods.

"I worked as if it was my own business and many people that I dealt with thought it was! Even now, I believe that if someone gives you an opportunity, you must grab it with both hands. If someone trusts you, you need to do far more than is asked of you," said Sithole.

He later teamed up with a colleague to create a bread brand called Royal Bake, but the verbal relationship broke down after a year and a half.

Sithole then identified trends and gaps in the market within his community, created a business plan for what was to become Bakers Creationz, but his rural setting did not appeal to potential financiers.

Despite this setback, Sithole started baking for schools in the area out of his own kitchen and sent his son to school with 15 muffins to sell. This was so successful that he recruited local kids to sell his muffins at R2 each for a 50c commission. 

"The challenge for me became production capacity,” he says. 

Sithole found an old community shop and after meeting business municipal food safety regulations, Bakers Creationz was well on its way, although many challenges came his way, like delivering his products by minibus taxi and struggling to scrape together money for packaging and ingredients.

With demand rising, Sithole started buying more baking equipment from bakeries that had shut down.

"I soon realised that building a business is not just about pushing volumes. We needed to maintain high standards and be food safety compliant. So, I set about upgrading the bakery," he said.

Through an advert, Sithole saw an opportunity to participate in the SA Home Loans Sekela Development Programme which supports small enterprises and realised he could apply for both technical and financial support.

"I presented my situation of having secured a deal with Pick ‘n Pay but that I hadn’t supplied them with a single cake! I shared my fear that I might lose this important opportunity to establish my business. They evaluated my case and I was accepted into the programme," he said.

Having completed an audit, Sithole is now gearing up to supply Pick ‘n Pay and additional Spar stores and is talking to other major retailers.

The future looks bright.

 - African News Agency (ANA)