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Working Jozi Rush Hour with Coffee on Grayston

If your morning commute includes Grayston Drive, you might recognise Harry Mohlahla. And if you didn’t know him before, you will soon.

Working Jozi Rush Hour with Coffee on Grayston

Harry Mohlala, born and raised in Alexandra Township, has adopted a fresh perspective (and business opportunity) on one of Gauteng’s commonly acknowledged enemies: Joburg rush hour traffic.

We sat down to dig deeper into the power of just starting, community and the endless possibilities for a better South Africa.

You’ve really put yourself into a space that few would dare to go – into Joburg peak traffic. How did you know that this was something the people needed?

I didn’t know there was a gap in the market. It’s the weirdest thing, because I believe it was written in the stars. I don’t usually sleep in the day but, on the few occasions that I slept, I had a dream and the dream kept on coming. The same dream as vividly as it was before.

And then I decided, “you know what, I’m not going to sleep on this dream. I’m going to chase this dream this time”.

What was the initial response when people first saw you [selling coffee] in the morning?

The first time when people saw me selling, some laughed at me. Some were sceptical as to whether to buy or not. I laugh because the first day, I had no idea how the traffic lights would work, the timing and everything. I only sold two cups of tea on that day and the order was a mess. But then later on, after I got my confidence, I managed to give those guys who bought the first cups something to say thanks for the support. They gave me the strength to go on.

And how has it changed now that they’re used to seeing you around? Do you have any regulars?

It changed over time, in the sense that people now started seeing me every day and then they had confidence in what I do, and they decided, you know, “let’s support this guy”. I do have a lot of regulars, and it’s like I know every other person that passes. Even if they’re not buying, just that hoot gives me hope. They’re giving me the confidence to keep on going every day.

What drove you to become an entrepreneur and start working for yourself?

I’ve always had ideas on what to do, but there were a whole lot of ideas that were thrown all over the place. I guess another thing is not being able to keep a job pushed me to try to open something for myself. I am where I am now because of me wanting to better myself, me wanting to try something new.

More than anything I aspire to be one of the greatest people that ever lived and obviously becoming an entrepreneur is to better my life, the life of my kids and others. The others that look up to me. I just want to better their lives.

I know that you make your scones yourself the night before every morning shift – who taught you? 

As I was selling coffee by the robots, some of the customers kept on saying “but what are we going to have the coffee with?”. I decided that scones would work. My girlfriend knows how to bake, and she taught me. She gave me some skills, I couldn’t even hold a rolling pin. But she was patient with me, and she kept on pushing me and pushing me to a point where now I’m where I am.

We did this all from the comfort of our home. It’s not a big house, it’s just one room. Small stove. But we just kept on pushing up until a lady said to us, “guys, if you are from Alex, I am going to help you out. Just come to my food station, I have a convection oven. Just come here and I’ll give you space to work. You don’t have to pay me anything.” And hence I’m able to now do over one hundred packets a day.

Where do you get the discipline to do this day in and day out?

I’ve already created a relationship with my customers, and they know that I will be on that certain corner every day at a certain hour. So, if I lose that then I’m losing money and once I’m losing money, I won’t be able to provide for my kids and myself.

You were able to hire an employee after 8 months of opening. How did that feel?

It’s the best feeling ever. I had to get help because the demand was a lot. I was working by myself at first. I would make 20, 30 packets of scones and by 7:30, they would be finished. I had promised myself that I’m going to put in four hours, 6am – 10am. But then I can’t wait there and tell people that I don’t have a product to sell.

So, I hired Phineas. He came to me because he heard that I was doing this, and he asked if he could help me. I told him, “I don’t have money to pay you, I don’t have any salary but if you can go to the streets and see what I do, I think you’ll be able to understand why I mean that I don’t have money – we're still building a company, we’re still trying to build a brand”. 

Now, I’m able to pay him at the end of the month.

What do you think community has to do with the success of having a business?

I always tell people, give back. No matter how small the business is, try supporting them without asking for discounts and give back to the community. Always try to build other businesses. Once that happens, it makes life a whole lot easier. 

It will lead to a positive impact when our people say, “Instead of going to look for a job, let me just go in a way of owning my own business”. Even if you are employed and working for a company, try having something on the side. You don’t have to run your business, you can get somebody to run it for you, then you are giving back to the community.

What we’ve found about business owners is at their core, they’re providers. Who do you do this all for? Who do you work to provide for?

I’m doing all of this for my kids. I want to teach them that anything is possible, as long as you put your mind and the work in. Whatever you want to do in this life, it’s possible. I want them to grow up knowing that Dad tried, Dad wanted this for us, and he’s doing all this so that we can understand that this is possible.

Look, I also want to have a better life. I also want to help other people in the community to understand that it’s possible; for every other black child, it is possible.

At iKhokha, our mission is to Believe in Better. What would your own understanding of believing in better be?

My own understanding of believing in better is believing in bettering other people’s lives. If you are able to climb the ladder to success with one other person, going forward they’ll be able to help somebody else. So that’s what I believe about believing in better.

Why did you make the decision to use iKhokha? What product do you use?

I decided to use iKhokha because of the affordability, and I didn’t want to complicate myself with all these other products. And when they told me about the low percentage, I felt that I could go ahead with the iK Mover. 

How is life different today than it has been before since opening your business?

My life has changed quite drastically because now I’m able to go month to month without having to stress about money. My kids don’t have to go hungry because I have to wait ‘til month end. But more than anything, it’s me being able to provide for my family, being able to have that satisfaction that at least I am paying school fees, and I am managing to buy food for my family.

What would your message be to young South Africans to help them believe in a better South Africa?

For young South Africans that are looking up to another business person, I would like to advise them that no idea is too stupid, and no idea is too small. Whatever you’re thinking, just start. Anytime, anywhere: just start. If Plan A fails, there’s 25 more letters in the alphabet. 

Never judge anybody’s hustle, do not underestimate any other person’s hustle. You don’t know how hard they’re working to get there; you don’t know what hours they put in to be there. 

Catch a cuppa on Grayston Drive

The next time you’re sitting in Jozi traffic and wondering how you’re going to fit in a coffee pitstop – don't. Swing past Grayston Drive and you’ll find Harry and his team every morning from 6 am – 10am. Have your card ready for a quick tap and boom, you’re on your way to a great day.