Thembile Gcukumeni (44), owner of Thembile’s Breadshop in Gugulethu, is not only an artisan baker and business owner but also a motivational speaker, sharing hope and inspiration to many within his community.
Thembile has baked 1000s of loaves for neighbours, local schools, churches and the community from his bread shop which he opened in August 2014. With a wood fired, rocket oven he bakes panini’s, share bread, healthy bread, ciabatta bread in tins, French baguettes, cheese sticks, Focaccia, scones and Chelsea buns.
But life has certainly not been easy for Thembile. This boy-scout turned mountaineer and outdoor experiential educator had a major set-back with a crippling stroke a few years ago.
“My life came crumbling down as I had to learn how to talk and walk again, like a little child. The stroke affected the left side of my body and my speech. Today I bake bread with the use of only one hand. I don’t see myself as a disabled person and I aim to inspire others who think their situation is dire that there is hope to turn things around.
“I received the assistance from an institution providing training in baking as well as the necessary equipment which gave me a new direction in life. My bread shop is not only there for serving those that are hungry. It’s a safe haven of healing, hope and being resilient. In the end bread has saved my life and served many in my neighbourhood and I am thankful for that opportunity.”
Thembile is part of a group of small business owners in Mitchell’s Plain, Langa, Gugulethu, Philippi and Khayelitsha to receive business guidance from the Small Business Academy (SBA) run by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). The participants will complete the intensive nine-month course in November this year.
The programme offers small businesses operating in townships the opportunity to grow, contribute to the economy and create jobs. Thembile says the business and marketing knowledge he is gaining is helping him to be more focused, conscious and targeted.
“Currently affordable bread is not sufficiently nutritious. One of the biggest challenges in poor communities in South Africa is lack of education and knowledge about healthy bread. These communities will need to be taught about the nutritional value of stone-ground flour and bread baked using timeless, non-automated methods.
“I am also passionate about enterprise development in South Africa. I believe that small-scale enterprises that reflect a person’s passion are one of the routes of economic success in our country.”
Thembile employs two part-time staff members and has plans to expand his business in the very near future.
“I have the vision to one day distribute to schools and senior citizens in my area and act as an ambassador for healthy whole meal baked products.
“But until then I’m trying to find a mixer which will assist greatly with the larger orders I receive as currently I mix with the use of only one hand. Expanding my bread shop is next on the agenda to ensure that I can accommodate group visits as well as some renovations to ensure better efficiency.”
He would also in addition like to be in a position to train up-and-coming entrepreneurs on how to use wood fired ovens to set up their own small franchises, to create an infrastructure at my shop to host groups and introduce the community to baking and to own a vehicle to reach untouched markets. But his biggest goal is to be part of the series of TED talks to share how he has overcome his personal life challenges on an international stage