An innate ability to create delicious delicacies is leading a KwaZulu-Natal chef to kneading a brighter future for himself and his colleagues.
When he was a child, Skhumbuzo Maphanga used to while away the hours cooking and baking with his mother.
While he loved to cook, Maphanga was keen on pursuing a career in law. However, a career guidance presentation egged him on to pursue a career in the hospitality industry.
“I always had a passion for cooking and being in the kitchen always made me feel at home. However, the baking or chef thing was not on my radar as I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I entered high school.
“When the International Hotel School did a presentation at school, as part of career guidance, I was interested and convinced that I was going to enrol in that hotel school the following year,” he says.
However, life handed him a lemon and he found himself not being able enrol after completing his matric at Alexandra High School in 2003. With his parents having raised the expensive tuition fees, he was able to attend the hotel school in 2005 where he studied towards a Diploma in Culinary Management.
In his final year in 2007, Maphanga was among the number of outstanding students who were awarded a two-year internship programme in America.
The knowledge he gained in pastry making helped him prepare for employment.
“While in America, I decided to only focus on pastry. I learnt how to plate desserts, bread, cakes, and mass producing for events.
“Other students chose to go to all departments in the kitchen, but I chose to specialise in pastry because it is so complex,” says Maphanga who hails from Imbali Township in Pietermaritzburg.
Today, the 36-year-old is an executive pastry chef and owner of Bakers Gallery. The Durban-based outfit supplies cakes to local residents and also eight food retailers around the city.
The business is among the first tenants to move into the Dube Trade Port Special Economic Zone’s mini factories complex, which is aimed at supporting small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).
Special Economic Zones (SEZs), are geographically designated areas of a country set aside for specifically targeted economic activities, supported through special arrangements (that may include laws) and systems that are often different from those that apply in the rest of the country.
The R90 million mini-factory development, which is comprised of 18 units, is an ideal platform for SMMEs requiring small-scale manufacturing, assembly, warehousing and office space.
The mini factories are in a strategic location adjacent to Dube Cargo Terminal within Durban’s King Shaka International Airport precinct.
Today, the establishment employs four people including three bakers who started as dishwashers and were later trained to make freshly baked cakes from scratch.
The makings of Bakers Gallery
For Maphanga, starting a business was never part of his recipe for success. Instead, when he returned to South Africa, he found a job at a Johannesburg hotel where he quickly climbed the ladder.
It was a friend who encouraged him to bake and sell his own cakes as a side job.
“I didn’t have the confidence to do stuff on my own, but I gave it a try and I got a client. However, I decided to move back to Durban and lost all my clients in Johannesburg, and I had to start all over again,” he recalls.
Soon after, he started work as a pastry chef at Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) and that is when Bakers Gallery SA started in 2013, as a side job to supplement his salary. The bakery initially supplied a home industry shop.
Later, Maphanga would move into his boss’s house who had converted his garage for him to use for baking. However, as the business expanded, he struggled to juggle between the two jobs and had to make a choice between his full-time job and building a business.
It was Bakers Gallery that would triumph and it was registered as a business in 2018. He would find business partners in his younger brother, Siphesihle who is also a trained chef specialising in complex decoration and painting of celebratory cakes, as well as his friend Ntobeko Ndlovu, a qualified educator and a medical scientist.
Thinking outside the box
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Maphanga and his partners were forced to think outside the box to sustain the business.
Through a friend, in 2020, the trio had their first break into the retail sector with a contract to supply cake loaves, cake slices, cake rings, cupcakes, biscuits, tarts, and pastries to Spar stores.
Within eight months, they were already supplying eight Durban-based Spar supermarkets and managed to raise funding from one of the big financial institutions.
With the business expanding, more private investors came on board.
In the long term, the team’s personal goal is to achieve the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), a system that provides the framework for monitoring the total food system, from harvesting to consumption, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. The system is designed to identify and control potential problems before they occur.
With a business plan backed by detailed research and documented growth and demand for their products, Maphanga says future plans are to supply retail central distribution centres and use online shopping platforms, like Takealot, to market their cookies online.
“The plan is to supply the distribution centre for most Spar and Checkers stores in KwaZulu-Natal. The evidence is there…in a space of eight months, we were selling into eight Spar stores. This tells us that the demand of our product is very high.
“If we are to meet our goals of supplying our products nationally, we will need to run two to three shifts a day to achieve the volumes. We are currently busy finalising the products to ship to Takealot so that they can ship the cakes online.
“We also anticipate that by selling cookies in bulk online, we will be well positioned to grow exponentially,” says an optimistic Maphanga.
Bakers Gallery is also looking to collaborate with caterers supplying cakes, cookies and desserts. They have already supplied the likes of Durban ICC and Balmoral Hotel with desserts for big functions.
As part of giving back to the community and job creation, Bakers Gallery offers short baking courses. The bakery is also planning to open a training facility for people who have a passion for baking and artistic cake making, targeting disadvantaged youth.
“It will be a great way to teach people how to bake and empower themselves by means of selling,” he says.
Maphanga’s message to other aspiring entrepreneurs is: make sure your books and documentation are in order, work hard and have the determination to succeed.
“It is not easy, and for me, I can safely say growing the business has been the hardest part of my life but it is rewarding. Funding is hard to come by [and] to get it, you need to be on your toes and have lot of determination.
“Be a person who says: ‘I’m not going to give up and work hard’. It is a lonely journey and you will lose touch with people, especially your friends, unless you have a lot of support from them and your family,” he says.
To date, Maphanga’s recipe to is proving to be a success.
Source: South African Government News Agency