Love is three vegan ice scoops in a tub
When the sun greets Midrand’s horizon, Sine-nhlanhla Ndlela’s summer morning routine has already begun. Before the glare hits her eyes, she reaches for her phone. “First thing I do when I wake up is check my phone, reply to emails, then I set up something to post for social media.”
This all happens before 7am when she gets out of bed to prepare breakfast for herself and her roommate.
“I start working before I wake up,” she says, carrying a saucer with a sliced grapefruit in one hand and a glass of cool Ceylon tea in the other.
Ndlela will then get ready to leave the house to deliver tubs of ice cream to areas throughout Gauteng, in between meeting suppliers, potential donors and collaborators.
It’s just past midday and Ndlela has just returned from running an errand. We walk into her flat carrying iced tea and a plastic bag filled with grapefruit. Her home, which doubles as a work space, is minimalistic. There is one couch, a white breakfast table with two matching chairs, a vase of dying daisies, a freezer and fridge, a plant that has crawled out of its pot on to the tiled floor and on the wall is a year planner filled with scribbles that she has fixed with lots of Prestik.
The only sign of clutter is in the right-hand corner of the living area — her overflowing doorless pantry. It is filled with glass jars, bottles and paper bags that she distracts me from inspecting, perhaps because they’re the ingredients in her secret recipe for her ice cream.
Twenty-five-year-old Ndlela is the founder and owner of Yo Coco, an online service that makes and delivers vegan ice cream to your door.
After graduating with a television production qualification from Afda and securing a job within weeks of moving to Johannesburg in early 2016, there was no need to consider entrepreneurship.
“I never saw myself doing what I am doing here. But that year I started having these thoughts. I felt restricted. I want to do something that I like but that’s also making a difference. But then it must be something that I genuinely enjoy and it must be for myself and not for somebody else. So I quit my job,” she says.
“At this point I’m super sad. I’m over Jo’burg. I’m like, why am I here? I just quit my job. Everyone here is stressed, no one trusts anybody. Nobody is relaxed. I wanted to go home to KwaZulu-Natal or back to Cape Town where I studied. But I couldn’t, so I had to make it here.”
During this period of seeking fulfilment in her everyday, she began questioning her purpose in life and why she’s in Johannesburg. She then sought guidance from a kinesiologist friend to identify imbalances in her body’s structural, chemical and emotional energy. Practitioners of this study undertake years of training to find the body and brain’s Chi.
“She guided me to see what it is that I’m here for and I believe that it is to serve love. We’re all here to serve but in different ways. I realised how much I like serving people. I don’t know why. And that’s why I loved retail. Even before this, I worked at Lush and McDonalds. In both cases I loved meeting people. I wanna hear what you want and I know these products and now that I know a little bit about you I can match you guys up and I loved that.”
This realisation came when Ndlela altered her understanding that human life is superior to that of other life.
“I thought, if life isn’t just for humans — like it runs through animals and everything — then if I carry on eating animals then I’m basically eating souls. So I decided I don’t want to do that anymore. So I started looking into veganism and I realised there’s no way I’m not eating my favourite dessert.”
So she decided to create and provide a vegan, sugar-free ice cream for people with similar dessert cravings and conscious eating convictions to hers and serve it as a form of love.
Her ice creams are made from nut-based milks and organic fruit and vegetables that will rival your guiltiest pleasures yet leave your stomach and ego with the light fulfilment — a feeling I can testify to after embarking on an abundant taste fest.
We begin with Rooibos and Cookies, a nutty, buttery ode to afternoon tea. This is followed by a scoop of the familiar earthy taste of her Coffee ice cream for those who are not so sweet-toothed. As this taste settles, the refreshing tangy flavour of Lemon Dreams encourages mouthfuls — the type that turn into uncontrolled hand licking. By the time I settle into the coconutty pink-and-white pillows of Strawberries and Cream, I have to nurse a slight case of brain freeze and an odd feeling that came with not sensing the itis because I’m not bloated from an ice cream binge.
These ice creams are only a third of Ndlela’s unique flavour choices. But after observing her openness to take risks and try the unknown, I don’t expect that Yo Coco’s menu will stay the same. Although the flavours may not remain static, there are factors in the artisan’s philosophy that make them a family.
“All the flavours are made according to the chakras. Your root chakra is red and that would be your Strawberry and Cream or your Beetroot and Chocolate. Then you’ll get your orange chakra — that’s where your Orange Marmalade and Lemon Dreams go. I did Lavender Chilli so that could be in your crown chakra, because that’s purple,” Ndlela says. “Yo Coco serves the body and soul. I really love coming up with creative flavours and just changing the business model. It’s my source of income but I want it to be a creative outlet as well.”
Since launching in November 2016, Yo Coco has grown and overcome a number of difficulties. The first of these was when Ndlela learned to be a sole proprietor, with no entrepreneurial background, after having a falling-out with a potential business partner.
“My friend decided to go back to Cape Town and I thought I would mess up because I didn’t trust myself enough to pull through,” she says.
But the lack of a plan B and the threat of no longer being able to dig into her savings for rent, she took time off to rethink her idea.
“I took a step back to re-evaluate the business model so I could decide on what I really wanted. I looked at what I had and decided that’s what I will use and things started to change. I started using the delivery model and made peace with not having physical space. Then people started recognising Yo Coco. Then Ubereats happened. Things changed! And I started seeing that I never needed to hide behind someone,” she says with her hands, making her multiple copper bangles sing.
Ndlela has developed a steady clientele, secured supplier rights with health grocery stores such as Farm Table in Linden and Salinas in Parkhurst and she has catered events for Cartier and Ster-Kinekor.
“I was sitting at home and then I thought: Black Panther, I should make black ice cream for them. So I called up Ster-Kinekor. Luckily I spoke to this amazing person who was, like, ‘Yes!’ So we were part of the set-up. They wanted me to do this in Durban, Cape Town and four in Johannesburg, but we wanted to pace ourselves so we just did Eastgate.”
Ndlela has plans to expand her business — she wants to get an ice cream truck to go on road trips and find customers in other provinces — but she has to pace herself. “But eventually I do want a big team — and a factory. I do want to end up just making ice creams. Then I have everyone else do everything else.”
“Everything else” is other people handling the social media and buying supplies and deliveries.
But she is doing everything herself “so it’s very clear to me what it is that I want so I can explain it to someone else”.
But she knows that: “You. Just. Have. To. Hold. On tight,” she breathes out between bites as she finishes off her grapefruit before heading to Rosebank to meet her apprentices to discuss the week ahead.
To be served scoops of love, follow Ndlela on Instagram and Twitter under the handle @the_yococo or send an email to [email protected]