The second time I walked into HEI Café, I was a bit sniffly. Barbara was intent on making me one of her grandma's secret recipe drinks to cure my cold, handed over with a bright smile and a marshmallow to lighten my spirits. Voici! This place feels like what I imagine visiting one's grandma's house must be like, cosy and homely and vintage heaven.
"You know French people, we're a bit crazy! We come to explore." I was thinking it, but she said it.
Barbara Copelovici found herself in South Africa in July 2012, an MBA student in an exchange program, strolling through the streets of Hillbrow, stumbling across a soup kitchen where fresh ideas first sparked. You see, HEI Café is a coffee shop, but it's also an NGO. She doesn't believe charity helps but that one should empower people through one's knowledge. She's now the CEO and founder of the Hillbrow Entrepreneurship Initiative, a youth-driven NGO whose mandate is primarily to empower homeless entrepreneurs.
"Homeless not Hopeless" is the slogan scattered around this humble alcove in the heart of Braamies. The space is there to help sustain the NGO, which has helped launch 5 homeless entrepreneurs' businesses and has 40 people on its team, all students, some even homeless.
This is a space young designers, musicians and entrepreneurs are encouraged to use, with a free conference room, free wifi, and even a library. On Fridays (from 17:30) and Saturdays (from 14:30), HEI even hosts a Marimba band.
The paintings on the walls and the various crafts - soft toys, crocheted beanies, beautifully made paper purses - scattered throughout the space are all made by the homeless and all for sale. And all that vintage furniture? That and virtually everything else in the place is auctioned off once a month to make way for more.
I can't get enough of the gold toy soldiers, the crepes made from a secret French family recipe and coffee served in quaint cups.
It might all sound a bit crazy, but in this changing world and its toppling economy, I think this may be the future. Allons-y!
HEI Café is tucked away in an alleyway at the Heerengracht Building, 87 De Korte Street, accessible from Reserve or Melle Street. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for events such as their Song Writers' Club and their "One Minute Mingles" - facebook.com/HEISOCIALCAFE
87 De Korte Street, Braamfontein
011 403 0215
Monday - Friday: 07:00 - 17:30
Saturday - Sunday: 14:00 - 17:00
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