Let’s Break The Ice, what are we drinking?
We are drinking a double Cortado. That’s my winter drink of choice. In summer, I do a Luigi’s Espresso which is something I created.
Well… I’m Italian! (Laughs)… I’m super passionate about coffee and about what coffee represents – which is kind of the art of perfecting something that cannot be perfected. Coffee is the sort of thing that is so malleable; whether it’s raining, humid, sunny or cloudy – it will change the way that the coffee grinds. So in essence, you are continuously chasing an elusive perfection.
So is coffee making an art?
Yes, absolutely! The actual function of roasting, down to cupping and everything along with that, is where the art lies. I tell my staff all the time, that I can teach them about making coffee but when it comes to the real crunch of it, it’s all about experience, it’s instinct.
Did you always want to be an Entrepreneur or did that develop over time?
Both my parents are entrepreneurs so I was kind of seeped in that environment and I’ve always actually owned businesses. I used to be involved in the performance industry whilst juggling my own businesses; I used to call it my hustle money and then my passion money. What I would do was to hustle in the performance industry; and in the evenings or during my day off, I would focus on my passion money (which is basically trying to get my businesses up and running). I recall when I was 9 years old, I was at my dad’s supermarket when I suggested an idea to take our TV and the PlayStation and to put it in a back room – then to charge the kids a small amount per person that entered to play. My dad didn’t follow through with it but looking back, it was actually a great business idea!
How did Shift Espresso come about and what is your inspiration behind this?
I grew up in a small area called Welkom in the Free State but had moved to Johannesburg when I was older, whilst my parents stayed behind. One day, my mom was attacked by 4 men; and subsequently the whole family decided to leave Welkom and move to Cape Town.
I felt a desire to do more for my family versus what I was doing personally. My parents are town folk, definitely not city folk and they didn’t have an idea of what they were going to do after the relocation. So I spoke to my dad and said “look, we have always wanted to go into business together so let’s do it- we are going to open a coffee shop”. He instead suggested that we do a car wash – which I was totally against! I told him that he needed to trust me as my gut feeling was for a coffee shop. I had no prior hospitality experience and we had never run a coffee shop before.
To get up and running – we tried numerous different coffee brands but nothing clicked for me, until I figured out exactly what we needed to do. So I basically set everything aside and dedicated 14 hours a day over 3 months – to create the initial brand. That includes assessing competitors brands – from the way they connect with their consumers, to how they portray their brands and that helped educate me on how I could differentiate our brand.
I called the company “Shift” because it was the shift in our family’s lifestyle from where we were and from where I was, to a new stage in our lives.
Your Brand’s motto is “Death Before Decaf”… what’s the inspiration behind this?
Drinking decaf is actually quite unhealthy. Coffee is not naturally decaf – meaning you cannot grow decaf coffee, therefore it is chemically decaffeinated. So you are basically consuming a cup full of chemicals.
I understand that some people have an aversion to caffeine but there is a drink for everybody. So if that is the case with one of our customers, I always find a way to suggest an alternative – normally something with a lower amount of caffeine but which still has the flavour. That is the inspiration for our motto of “Death Before Decaf”.
How important is following your intuition in both life and as an entrepreneur?
I think it is one of the key fundamentals to doing anything in life. Whenever I have gone against my gut, I always ended up making the wrong decisions. So I am continuously in an action of quieting my mind and feeling my way through my decisions versus trying to logically ascertain what is going to be the best decision- so far that has led me the right way. I also think it is such an important thing for people to grow. We are so in our head that we forget that there is something else that works in us.
Tell me about your past and why you are no longer a performer?
I was always in the dance studio growing up as my mom owned a studio, so it was a natural assimilation to go into dancing (which later turned into acting). I competed overseas in world championships and attained my national colours. Dancing essentially built a foundation of always wanting to better myself. You can’t win anything by doing nothing – so I would look to see how I was weaker than my opponents; and then look to see where I could develop to be better than them.
When I performed in Dirty Dancing in theatres, I felt my body collapsing (around the age of 26) as it was a very intense show. I ended up getting a lot of injuries and then the accident happened with my mom which provided me with an opportunity to completely change my life’s direction. You don’t realise how much you define yourself as a human being, by what you do – so when you remove that entire structure from your life, you then look at yourself and say: “now what”.
It took some three months to completely de-structure myself, and to explore the foundations of who I was as a human being. All of this whilst setting up Shift.
I wanted to build a new foundation as an individual not as a representation of something else.
I must say, that must be one of the hardest things, that moment you realise you have to give up your dream?
I think people stop themselves from following their dreams because of fear. I believe that I make the right decisions when I am out of my comfort zone as it helps me to grow. Remember that with any growth, comes growth pains. People struggle to understand this mind-set but it’s important to embrace the fear. In fact I am even more fearful of comfort than of fear itself. Within that, nothing breeds failure like success.
What is the biggest challenge of starting a business?
The challenge comes in creating something that is individual, that speaks for itself and stands by itself. I think that many young millennials have this unbelievable tool of social media, which provides them with the ability to see and do things that I wasn’t able to do in my teens.
Don’t be afraid to create something that you know is unique to you – because selling something generic won’t get your brand noticed. You have to be unique, and through this – people will be attracted to it.
How important is goal setting?
Incredibly important – however, I do think that people should not be fixated on the goal, but rather see it as a reference point. If I fixate on the future too much, I lose what’s currently going on in the “now”. What’s more important is to live in the present and to ask yourself if what you are doing will create a future for yourself versus focusing on your future the whole time and missing the present moment. Goal setting and the journey to attain those goals are important – but my belief is to not fixate on just the goal – appreciate the journey.
Do you write them down?
Yes all the time. This makes it tangible – and the sooner you write your thoughts on paper, the easier it is to understand yourself and what you want to do.
Do you have a mentor? Or someone who has guided you?
I have many of them – yet they may not know it. I will look at an individual who is doing something exceptional, and who is far more experienced than I am and I will make an effort to question them on certain aspects of what they are doing.
You don’t necessarily need someone to baby you through the process, what you need is a conversation to help you understand their methods. You will then be surprised by what you start to actually create.
How did you market/fund yourself?
I was very lucky – I grabbed an opportunity where I had family who wanted to invest. So once I created one cafe, gaining investment for the second one was very easy. They saw what was happening, they saw how the operations worked.
If you need funding, you must be very articulate, clear and concise in your pitch because someone is placing investment into your idea, and they want dividends. It’s important to not just grow your brand but to also grow what has been invested in the company.
When it comes to marketing myself, you would be surprised, Shift Espresso Bar was built entirely on referral. Print media to me is dead, social media is all fine and well but like most things, you’ve got the “tortoise and the hare” mentality. I feel social media sometimes can burn businesses too bright and they peak out just as fast. Your best bet is building consistent real relationships with your clients day in and day out- it may be slower but that is the only way you are truly going to build your business, in my opinion.
It seems like your staff are one big family- was that intentional or did that just happen organically?
Both- Shift is a business for family and even the ideology behind this was that Shift was built for the community. Every Shift Espresso Bar is individual unto it’s community and we want them to feel like they belong. I think we live in an age where people feel isolated and I think that, my staff have grown into a family. I’m not a very totalitarian boss and don’t believe that form of leadership works anymore. However, I am heavy handed – I have a sense of perfection that has to be kept up. I do enjoy creating a good atmosphere though -act like quite a fool – meaning, I’m always poking fun at my staff 24/7 and I think that has now blended into the culture of how they work.
What do you want your customers to take away from their experience here at Shift?
Love. It sounds so cheesy but at the end of the day I am creating a product with passion and love. I treat my staff with passion and love. I treat my cliental with the same thing. I want to create a space where people don’t feel judged but to feel like equals on all levels.
You are quite a deep thinker, where does that “need to inspire” come from?
Now you are getting into the nitty gritty of it all! That was a good question (laughs). Everything I have done in my entire life is actually to serve people. The performing, the café, all of it is to take people out of their environment and put them into an environment where their worries are no longer appropriate or no longer exist.
If you see my Instagram page, you will notice that I am continually speaking about my thoughts in terms of reality, relationships, entrepreneurship, it all is to serve people in a way that helps them bend their mind-sets a little.
In those times when you want to give, how do you self-motivate?
I don’t know if you have ever heard of anything called the imposter syndrome? Basically, it is a physiological state that a lot of entrepreneurs actually suffer from. We don’t often talk about it because we are supposed to be leaders. What it is, is that you may not understand what you are doing – yet you confidently carry on.
I think people don’t realise, you see an individual that’s leading a company or leads a group of people and automatically think they are strong – but what they have done is formulated a mind-set more than anything else. I suffer from the same doubts and insecurities as most people. So what I do, is I give myself a day.
I don’t believe in victim mentalities, they stop you from fixing the issues. When you feel sorry for yourself, you will continue to mess up. The first step is not to victimize yourself. The key fundamental is to pick yourself up and keep going.
Business can be likened to a boxing match and life as the opponent. When I take a knock and hit the ground, I pick myself up and start swinging again. It’s a mental image that I have created for myself. The physical action is – I give myself a day. Not to victimise myself but to understand that I am human and do make mistakes. I have to understand the fact that its okay and the world hasn’t come to an end because someone at the café didn’t have a good experience.
Any advice for young entrepreneurs trying to start their own business?
Don’t give up. Small consistent steps every day – and it’s not about making these monumental leaps in a day and then doing nothing for the next week, its about dedicating even an hour to make yourself successful every day. Those 60 minutes will change your entire life- it’s the simplest thing to do and no body realises it.
Favourite thing about being a creative entrepreneur?
Watching people enjoy what I put out. When I see that look on their face that they are enjoying it… that’s a win!
Favourite item on your menu?
I wish I could say that I have one but it’s always changing!
Where do you see Shift in the next 5 years?
It’s so difficult because we are a boutique coffee shop. So multiplying at a rate where I have thousands of them, doesn’t seem to make sense.
So for me, If I have 5 Shift Espresso bars in Cape Town; and if I own my roaster and production as well as if I begin to step into an international market – then I will say we are in the right place.
If you could Break The Ice with anyone Past or Present, who would it be and how would you do it?
Einstein. I would more than likely have it over a glass of water because the man was radical! If I could have could have an hour of his time, I think my mind would actually melt! We haven’t had an intellect in existence since.
Photography & Videography: Justin Govender
Entrepreneur: Luigi Vigliotti
Host: Kendal Olivia Barrett
Location: Shift Espresso Bar