Photo: www.ilovecoffee.co.za

I Love Coffee, a Cape-based social enterprise that trains and employs deaf baristas to work as frontline staff in its stores, has embarked on a bold expansion drive that will see it opening as many as five new outlets over the next year.

In just over a year, I Love Coffee has gone from a tiny site in Claremont to serving 450 customers per day at Publicis Africa and has secured two training sites in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and an additional three sites in Claremont, which has seen the brand go from just two deaf baristas to more than 30.

Starting with a successful move earlier this year to its current location within the Publicis building in Harrington Street, where the company is functioning as the in-house catering and coffee provider to the 10 agencies that fall under the Publicis umbrella and share the space, the team at the helm of the business have big plans for the foreseeable future.

I Love Coffee chief financial officer Mike Morritt-Smith said they are setting up a flagship site in Strand Street and are in negotiations to open outlets in a hospital in Johannesburg, at the head office of a global fitness brand as well as another location in the Cape.  

Just over a year ago I Love Coffee had one barista and was operating from a tiny site in Claremont. According to co-founder Gary Hopkins, Morritt-Smith was instrumental in setting up Truth coffee and knows more than most about how to grow a coffee brand and consistently deliver an exceptional product. 

While exploring various social enterprise models, Hopkins was introduced to the social challenges facing the Deaf Community, which includes non-recognition of sign language and widespread unemployment as well as marginalisation, and the idea of coffee hit home as a way of helping people with and without disabilities spend time together.

“Our mission is to normalise deaf employment, by showcasing the many contributions the deaf can make to the success of an organisation. Ultimately we’d like to see a network of corporate and retail cafes throughout South Africa,” said Hopkins.

I Love Coffee has directly impacted the lives of 14 staff members who have been or are in their employ, all of whom were unemployed before joining the brand. 

They have also served in excess of 700 corporate clients, who at some level can now "sign" or are at least aware of South African sign language – brochures and video feeds at their tills help educate people on the basics – while some of their customers have even gone on to take formal sign lessons. The team will soon be offering classes in their cafes.

“Most importantly, the deaf community has embraced us and has fed back to us that they have experienced a greater sense of understanding and acceptance within the hearing co