Cobus van Zyl, Cubaña Latino Caffé franchisee

This 32 year old is proving that being young, owning a successful franchise, mingling with celebs and living the high life is all part of a day’s work when you’re a Pretoria-based social caffé owner.

Cobus van Zyl, Cubaña Latino Caffé franchisee

The days before franchising

“I’ve spent my career in the hospitality industry working for a number of franchises. I’d worked through every role and I knew I wanted to own a franchise one day.  I’d decided on Cubaña Havana Lounge Latino Caffé because it showed the most growth even during the recession, it had an atmosphere I enjoyed, diverse drinks and food, and the Latino social café concept is unique in South Africa. It also attracts a wide variety of people.”

A day in Cobus’ life

  • 08:45 Arrive at the shop, start daily admin and meet with office assistant and general manager to ensure we’re ready for the day ahead. I oversee stock and meet with reps and suppliers.
  • After 13:00 Once the lunch time rush ends, I prepare for the big night trade. My managers meet with staff to discuss staff shifts, promotions, incentives and general turnover.
  • From 19:00 I personally mingle with guests, attend to all regulars and VIPs, while ensuring correct ambiance, music, quality of service and consistency.
  • After 02:00 I go to bed.



Daily tasks:

  • Stock-taking, shift preparation, cash-ups, ad hoc training, building relationships with customers.

Weekly tasks:

  • Planning events for the week, arranging staff shifts, paying suppliers, staff meetings, and follow up on week’s purchases to balance stock.

Monthly tasks:

  • Major stock-take and cash-up analysis. Adjust budget and compare to previous.

A few bumps in the road

“Initially I experienced a challenge with brand perception — people thought it was another nightclub. But through local area marketing and pushing our food sales, perception changed quickly. Since then, food sales have tripled because we’re known as a social café with a full menu.”

Understanding the demands of the industry well, van Zyl’s first 14 months still proved to be gruelling.

“Once the honeymoon was over, when we weren’t the new kids, I had to focus on building relationships to secure loyal customers.” This has paid off as van Zyl now enjoys good, consistent business.

Getting the ball rolling

After researching the brand, the franchisors and franchisees, van Zyl committed. “I was impressed that everything was included in the franchise fee and they provided thorough training. I bought the franchise in January 2013, head office helped with everything from finding a site, demographic analysis, lease negotiation, bank rates, staff selection and training, stock, everything.” By  March 2013 he was open for business.

Ins and outs of hospitality industry

“We serve a lot of food and drinks, and to minimise waste I’m thorough with stock taking, ensuring deliveries are correct and that all staff know the cost of wastage. A computerised POS system helps with stock, but a lot of it comes down to old-fashioned counting.

“With any business, security is a priority. I’ve got doormen and people on the floor to ensure everyone’s safety, there’s CCTV and on-the-spot checks for staff to ensure the money they handle balances at the end of the day.”

Incentivising staff

“My staff are continually trained in menu items, upselling, customer service, and they are rewarded for good work – it also helps with retention. There are basic incentives like free desserts and drinks, to employee of the month awards for waiters, kitchen and bar staff, which offer a cash reward. Managers are also incentivised individually to reach target.”

Customising a franchise


“Cubaña’s uniqueness is a major draw card, but the franchisor accepts each store should cater to its customers. Each night is different and attracts different customers, we support local musicians and DJs, host foreign dignitaries, celebs and sports stars, and I do a lot of social media marketing.”

Highlights and highlife

“I love the lifestyle and mingling with all kinds of people. One time Dr Malinga, a famous musician, came in and I had no clue who he was. I was about to refuse him entrance because he was wearing shorts, but my staff told me not to worry about that. Everyone rushed to him on the dance floor, and there I was clueless and slightly embarrassed!” van Zyl laughs.

Managing energy levels

Van Zyl spends up to six days a week and 17 hours a day in his shop. “In the beginning I really struggled with the lack of sleep, but with training, the team grew more confident, and I’m now able to take a few hours away from the shop if needed.”

Tracy Lee Nicol
About the Author
Tracy-Lee Nicol is the managing editor of Franchise Zone Magazine and deputy editor of Entrepreneur Magazine. She studied her Masters degree in Art History and Visual Culture at Rhodes University and spent the next two years working and travelling in Asia. Her love of people, business and teaching is reflected in telling the stories of entrepreneurs, franchisees and franchisors, inspiring others to take the leap to being their own boss and bringing about positive change in South Africa.

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