Inspiring young entrepreneur Lufefe Nomjana started with a good idea and R40. Today he has expanded his small-scale spinach-bread making business into a range of bakeries, eateries and a food delivery service.
In 2012, Lufefe Nomjana volunteered at a Khayelitsha community garden. There was a huge spinach crop, and much of it was unused. Intuitively, he searched the internet for interesting things one could do with spinach; and he found bread recipes that were both tasty and nutritious.
Baking his first batch of spinach bread in a neighbour’s oven, Nomjana started selling his loaves around his neighbourhood. He used the cash he had in his pocket — R40 — to pay his neighbour for the electricity and used whatever small turnover he made to build the business relationship from there.
While he made little profit off his first sales, Nomjana did begin building up a reputation for baking some of the best bread in the city — all while highlighting the nutritional value of spinach.
“Back then it was not about profits. I was building the brand, and actually educating people about [healthy eating],” he told the How We Made It In Africa business website.
Nomjana was approached by the manager of a local big-name food retailer who offered him the use of the store’s industrial ovens in exchange for selling the bread in the store.
“[The store] let me use their ovens, gave me a shelf, and let me sell the bread in their store, rent-free for the next year,” he told News24 in 2016.
The business’s output sprung to 200 loaves a day, as well as other baked goods such as muffins and sandwiches. Nomjana began to sell and deliver his products to offices around Cape Town, with an expanding team of salespeople. The business crowd-sourced funds to purchase delivery bicycles and create a professional brand identity: Espinaca Innovations.
By 2014, Nomjana had raised enough capital to open and operate his first Espinaca bakery: a converted shipping container in the heart of Khayelitsha. He would also go on to win an SAB (business) Innovation Award; he used the prize money to finance his expanding ideas for the business. From here on out, the sky was the limit for the business.
A budding entrepreneur in search of the perfect moneymaking idea since he was teenager, he admits that owning his own bakery was his ultimate goal all along.
The original Espinaca bakery produces over 500 loaves a day, sourcing the spinach from local organic farmers. But Nomjana wants to increase that output to 2,000 loaves a day, with a plan to open a factory outside Stellenbosch in the next year to meet demand.
To get him closer to that goal, Nomjana opened a second bakery in 2017, expanding it into an affordable and comfortable sit-down eatery offering sandwiches, baked goods and soups, all based around spinach.
Nomjana tells How We Made It In Africa that his humble beginning and expanding success is proof that entrepreneurs don’t need lots of money to start off. The best advice for any new entrant into small business, he says, is to identify the resources they have available and think outside the box to turn it into a viable business idea.
“Life is about having something to give in order for you to receive. And what is it that you have? You’ve got the brains, the intellectual capital, and that will actually open many doors for you. So the first capital that you need, more than money, is intellectual capital.”
The next big Espinaca idea for Nomjana is the development of spinach chips, which will aim to be a healthy alternative — and no doubt healthy competition — to popular flavoured potato chips.
The idea of healthy eating was not only a foundation of Nomjana’s entrepreneurial beginnings, but also his own healthy lifestyle; he tells News24: “[Back when I was] living alone in a shack in a back yard… I would survive on the spinach and the crops that we grew in the garden. I only ate vegetables and I became a vegetarian — a lifestyle I still live today… My dream is not [just] to grow a big business, but [also] to own something that can serve my community. I wish one day to have my own spinach farm and to positively change the eating habits of the people in the township.”