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Lattes, laughs and lunches …

After almost 30 years as one of Parkview’s favourite gathering spots – and one of Johannesburg’s first specialised coffee shops – The Perfect Cup is receiving a makeover. Owner Michelle Dancer spills the (coffee) beans.

It’s Wednesday morning, and Michelle Dancer has already interrupted her own conversation with a number of smiles and waves to the people pushing open the door to The Perfect Cup – one of whom has even asked to borrow some money for a haircut.

That’s the kind of place The Perfect Cup is – the caffeine-fuelled equivalent of that place where everybody knows your name. That makes Michelle, as the owner for the past 10 years, something of a celebrity.

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It’s a status that frequently catches her by surprise. Growing up, she knew she’d like to follow in her father’s footsteps as a business owner, but wasn’t too sure which direction her interest in entrepreneurism would take her. What she did know, though, was that the marketing and communications degree she was studying at the time she had her first encounter with The Perfect Cup, was just a stopgap.

That encounter came about when she started au pairing to fill the extra hours between lectures. Her employer, Deidre van Niekerk, had established The Perfect Cup in 1996, and by 2007, when the two met, the little coffee shop had a sizeable and loyal following. ‘People have always been drawn to this little gem. The fact that it’s so hidden away [tucked into a corner of one of Parkview’s neighbourhood centres] certainly adds to the attraction. I also think it’s the kind of place where people pop in for a quick chat and a refreshing cuppa after they’ve stopped at the pharmacist and the greengrocer. You all get to know each other after a while, and a kind of community grows,’ Michelle says. Of course, the coffee has a lot to do with it, too. The Perfect Cup was the home of one of Johannesburg’s very first roasteries, and the shop still roasts its own beans on site every morning, going through 360kg of green beans every month. In fact, residents have been known to walk to the café every weekend to collect their customised blend of beans, sourced from Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Kenya.

What appealed to Michelle most, however, was the fact that The Perfect Cup’s warm and cosy atmosphere made it feel like an extension of Deidre’s home. She started helping out at the shop; just a little at first, then more and more frequently. When she was eventually appointed manager, this was an ambience she worked hard to maintain.

Then, in 2010, Deidre announced she was planning to sell the shop within the next year or so, and as Michelle was manager, she had first option to purchase. For Michelle, the timing simply wasn’t right. She was eager to explore and go adventuring in France. ‘But it soon became clear the plan wasn’t working out. As it turns out, I’m so glad I didn’t go overseas. Deidre was ready to sell earlier than expected, and I’d have missed out on the opportunity if I’d travelled.’

Michelle officially took over The Perfect Cup in September 2010 – but because she was already a familiar face and already knew every aspect of the business, the transition was a very easy one for her and her customers alike. ‘Most only realised I’d become the owner when they asked why they hadn’t seen Deidre for a couple of months!’ she laughs.

Because The Perfect Cup was such an entrenched part of the Parkview community, she refrained from making any drastic changes, adding only a few tweaks, as and when needed. That all changed this year, when the premises next door became available for rent. It had long been Michelle’s dream to expand (‘Right now it feels as though we’re bursting at the seams!’), and the new space allows her to do just that.

She’s aware that patrons who regard The Perfect Cup as their Old Faithful may balk at the idea of a drastic transformation, much like you’d do a double take if your previously staid best friend suddenly shaved her head. But, she says, although customers should expect a bright, airy space with features like exposed brickwork giving a nod to current trends, the things that make The Perfect Cup what it is – the friendliness of the staff and the warm atmosphere – are going nowhere.

One thing that’s very, very different, though, is the menu. The trademark offerings – like the lightest, laciest pancakes in Johannesburg – are now joined by a harvest table produced by renowned local foodie Kate Naughton. There’ll also be a new deli section, more home-baked goods and a refreshed menu with more options for vegans and vegetarians.

The partnership with Kate is one of the things that excites Michelle most about The Perfect Cup’s new iteration. She’s also looking forward to seeing new faces, lured in by live music on Saturday afternoons and a new children’s corner.

It’s fitting that the new shop has opened exactly nine years to the month since Michelle first took the helm – a sign, perhaps, that Parkviewers will enjoy at least another decade of spooning the froth off cappuccinos at their favourite coffee haven.
Details: perfectcup.co.za

Michelle’s must-haves for business owners

• A good support structure. ‘I don’t think this would have been a success if I hadn’t had the support of my parents. When I bought the shop, they told me they’d be there for me if I failed – but that they knew I wouldn’t fail. They still help out if I need a break.’
• Consistency. ‘The real secret to The Perfect Cup is our manager and head barista, Bongani Sibanda. He makes sure that every cup is as good as the last. But it goes beyond that – if we say we’re going to do it, we do it.’
• Be true to yourself. ‘I’ve said it before, but The Perfect Cup really is an extension of my home, and I want everyone here to feel that. I couldn’t have worked here if I didn’t believe in it.’

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