The Story of Sonder
It began with a walk beside the ocean, like many great ideas often do.
We were strolling along Sea Point promenade, on one of those pre-summer October evenings that feel unnaturally warm and charged with the weight of everything still to come. Hand in hand, we were swept up in each others gaze, having just been reunited after ten grueling months apart. Like many lovers all over the world, the outbreak of the virus had kept us separated by long stretches of ocean and hastily shuttered borders. But, just as it had kept us apart, it had also brought us together, every evening, over Facetime.
And so, while the world around us was falling apart, we were falling for each other.
The global pandemic radically transformed the world as we know it and our lives were no exception. Sadly forced to close his newly opened backpackers business (talk about shitty timing), Chase packed up his life in the Eastern Cape and moved to Cape Town, in search of employment. As for me, after living through a second cancer diagnosis and months of brutal Covid isolation, I felt dissatisfied with my corporate job in London, and found myself aching for a fresh start. I suppose that’s a long winded way of explaining how we found ourselves walking along the promenade on a Thursday evening, dreaming up what would eventually become our business.
When you open a coffee shop, one of the first things people tend to ask you, is whether or not it's always been a lifelong dream of yours. When presented with this question I frequently find myself wanting to say that yes, I have in fact been planning this since I childhood. To be honest, that sounds a whole lot more romantic than the truth, which is that both of us stumbled into this opportunity, not by choice but due to the falling apart of a myriad other plans.
But as the saying goes, things often fall apart so better things can fall together. And our little cafe is truly one of the best things that could have come out of a seemingly hopeless time.
The second question people tend ask you is whether or not you're alright in the head? Because opening up a café is hard enough as it is, but you'd have to be totally crazy to open one in crippling recession and global crisis, right? And for that I reply, yes in fact we are slightly mad.
But also, if not now then when?
Because if my life experiences thus far have taught me anything it's that nothing is guaranteed, so you might as well throw caution to the wind and do what you really want.
For us, the most important thing was doing work that brought us to joy. Work that felt meaningful and had purpose.
And so, with a tiny budget and strong refusal to return to the 9 to 5 capitalist treadmill, we pooled together our resources, skills and energy and began to draw up plans for what is today, Sonder Café.
Picking a name for your business can sometimes feel like the hardest part. But ours found us, by chance, when driving through the city streets, we glanced up at a brightly lit apartment block and through the windows saw the silhouetted outlines of people in their homes, going about their respective lives. Like a looking glass into all these complex yet unknowingly interconnected lives, the image struck me as pertinent.
“Sonder” I said aloud. “The realization that every individual is living a life as deeply vivid and complex as your own.”
And so, it only made sense that in this time, with humans more distanced from each other than ever before, that this would become the name of a place we hoped would bring people together.
Once a name was decided, the rest of the story fell into place. A space for rent opened up in Observatory and we began renovating, both of us adopting new roles, from handyman to plumber, interior designer, painter, chef and manager.
In these past two months we have watched our dream come to life, and the journey so far has been nothing short of incredible.
The cherry on top of it all of it is that doing this together has felt a lot like walking on a tight rope, while secretly knowing you can fly.
Whatever happens, if you do it in love, you can't really fail.
We hope to continue watching our little space grow and flourish into so much more than just a cafe and to bring you all along for the ride.