AS part of an ambitious expansion strategy, one of Port Elizabeth’s biggest success stories, Dulce Cafe, has merged with another successful national franchise owned by former Springbok rugby star Kobus Wiese.
Wiesenhof Coffees, owned by Wiese and his wife, Belinda, recently bought a controlling share of Dulce Cafe for an undisclosed sum, resulting in a partnership of 42 Dulce Cafe and 45 Wiesenhof Coffee stores.
The deal took more than a year to conclude and will see both chains retain their individual identities but work together to grow market share and expand their footprint nationally.
Wiesenhof Coffees bought its 70% stake of the Dulce Cafe franchise from managing director Mike Pullen, who together with his son, Tom, will now focus on increasing the international arm and global footprint of the Dulce Cafe brand.
Dulce Cafe director Martin Fuller said the Pullens were already working on the opening of three stores in Saudi Arabia, one in Ghana and one in Tanzania.
“Looking at the industry that we are in recently, we noted that everything is going bigger. For example, Famous Brands has been acquiring quite a few coffee houses recently, so through this partnership between Wiesenhof and Dulce we are able to have more say with landlords in terms of rentals and more persuasion in getting better discounts,” Fuller said.
He said while Dulce’s headquarters – which had always been in Port Elizabeth – would now move to Heidelberg to be run out of the Wiesenhof Coffees headquarters, the company would retain its uniquely Eastern Cape identity.
“We have eight stores in the Eastern Cape, five of them are in Port Elizabeth, so this will always be our home,” Fuller said.
“For the next few months it will be all about consolidating the two businesses, but … it’s business as usual.”
The first Dulce Ice Cream store was opened in July 1981 in a small complex in Sydenham, Port Elizabeth, by an Argentinian named Hubert Stempowski.
After its opening, the weather became very cold and customers opted instead for coffee rather than ice-cream, turning Dulce Ice Cream into Dulce Cafe, specialising in coffees like it does today.
A further two outlets opened, after which the business was franchised and grew nationally.
There are now 11 in the Western Cape, nine in KwaZulu- Natal, 12 around Gauteng, and one each in North West and Namibia.
Fuller said the reason Dulce Cafe had become so successful was due to its ability to be a trend-setter.
“There was not a lot of competition back when we started out but now there is a non-stop rush of coffee brands.
“What we do is a good menu and try to retain the customers. It is important to keep the menu current and try to lead the trends when it comes to food.”
Wiesenhof Coffees chief executive Rob Barrett will be managing the amalgamation of the two businesses. Up to 10 new stores are set to open within the next financial year.
“We are excited about the merger and we believe the two brands will work well together as there is a synergy between the two. For now, we just want to concentrate on growing the turnover in our existing stores and opening new stores in prime locations.
“Between the two brands we have stores in 30 hospitals but we want to look at more niche markets such as airports and corporate offices,” Barrett said.
Wiese said: “It is my dream to develop 200 successful stores, all of which would be operated by 50 franchisees, within the group. By encouraging the ownership of multiple sites, we can consolidate the investments of our franchisees, and ensure our family composition and personable customer rationale at all times.
“It is also to our strategic advantage and positioning within the quick-service restaurant industry that we now offer two choices in franchise proprietorship to potential investors.”
Wiesenhof Coffees also has its own roastery, established in 1996, which will link the two brands.