Every morning entrepreneurs Caitlin Seed and Tracy Boyle park their coffee van opposite the Westville swimming pool – not to do a few lengths but to dispense cappuccino comfort to youngsters boarding busses for school and others heading towards the busy N3 to navigate the morning traffic.
Later in the day they serve many of the locals, varsity students and stay-at-home mums who pick up their morning coffee and linger for a chat. Charismatic barista, Mac Gumede, mans the coffee machine and drives the truck. The young mothers, who live as far afield as Durban North and Ballito, are there on alternate days.
Seed and Boyle have been friends since Grade 1 and were working in the corporate world when they decided they “both wanted to be their own bosses at around the same time”. Seed had studied food and consumer science and had spent 11 years in food giant Unilever’s marketing department. Boyle was a pharmaceutical rep.
Food trucks were becoming increasingly popular in Cape Town and Johannesburg and they decided they’d like to do something similar in Durban even though the city was lagging a bit. The growth of the local coffee culture also helped.
Durbanites were on a quest for a good coffee and to buy organic fresh produce. Markets have gone a long way to changing the food culture in Durban. “It’s a definite trend,” says Seed. But setting up a business in a three ton truck is not as easy as it sounds.
One of their first challenges was finding the right location. They remember driving around for hours drawing up a list of possibilities. Their spot in Westville was safely off the busy road and offered plenty of parking.
The bonus was that it also complied with all the municipal regulations which helped them get their licence to operate – something many similar businesses are still struggling to do. They attribute success here to dogged determination and perseverance.
“We’re very much by the book, so we sat there every day. It took around eight months just to get our licence,” remembers Boyle. Next, they had to buy a truck that was big enough to carry all their equipment and had enough standing room for a barista.
When Boyle’s father suggested going to auctions, they laughed but eventually took him seriously when he found one. It was an ex Denny Mushroom delivery van that came with the added bonus of being fully insulated.
The transformation of the van was partly handled themselves and partly by experts. Seed’s husband Nigel, who is a good handy man, was roped in. The cutting out and the creation of the hatches and steelwork was done by a specialist and Nigel provided the finishing touches such as the wooden cladding.
Boyle’s sister, Jessy de Kock, designed the logo. During their preparation, both Boyle and Seed completed barista courses which helped them pick out the right coffee.
“We tried a couple of different ones but fell in love with Tribe. Not many use it. We bring it in from Woodstock in Cape Town. All our coffees are medium roast, full of flavour and do not leave a bitter aftertaste ,” says Seed.
After taking nearly a year to set up their business, they began trading in May this year.
They did most of their marketing via social media. “It was something new for Westville. We had customers from our first day. We still have regular customers who have supported us from day one . It’s about building relationships,” says Boyle.
Primo Grind is at the Westville pool 6.30 to 1.30 on weekdays and between seven and 11 on Saturdays.
“If we are not here, customers get really upset,” smiles Seed. But she says they try to warn customers via social media when they are taking time out to work at events.
Primo Grind has sold coffee, delicious fresh muffins and decadent brownies at the Umhlanga Food Festival, the recent power lifting championship in Durban and will be at the UWS CrossFit competition in mid-October.
They also cater for corporate events such as a recent KPMG coffee morning for interns. “It is becoming trendy for corporates to do things like this for staff. It’s a nice way to get them out of the office,” says Seed.
The business partners value the strong customer base they have built up in Westville but would also like to do more events so a second vehicle is likely to appear alongside a road near you fairly soon.