The dude behind our favourite watering hole(s) shares his success story with us
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon
Right now Daniel Holland is very busy celebrating his latest coup with a handful of friends and a bottle of single malt. Just this morning he signed the lease to his fourth shop, a multi-level funhouse on the corner of Loop and Hout Street.
The building has high visibility, a charming façade and with a kitchen in the basement, a ground floor café-slash-bar, upstairs office space and a top floor that he’ll sublet to music label Black Major, this new infrastructure will allow Dan to take his brand to a place few others can touch.
And all that will come in due course, but after a two-year court battle and a bidding war Dan wants to share this little victory with his friends, and so here he is, in the shell of his new space running excitedly up and down the stairs and swigging whisky straight from the bottle.
Those hanging out tonight aren’t mere hangers-on, and each has contributed to Yourstruly in his own particular way. James Louw does the shop fitting, all wood cladding and bespoke steel structures; Warren Talbot is the reason why Dan’s 94 staff members are now wearing waffle-soled sneakers; and Smooth Mike? Well, he’s a rapper, and is probably to thank for there being girls here.
It’s a heady moment and I ask Dan what his 16-year old self would say right now?
“Hold your horses and enjoy the ride,” says Dan, misinterpreting my question as what advice he’d give a 16-year-old Dan. After some prodding he adds, “I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to where I am, and in some instances I wish I hadn’t sacrificed so much.”
That night Dan makes up for it and put days, weeks, months of early mornings, late nights, deadlines and sacrifice into the few hours separating Friday night and when the sun finally comes up Saturday morning.
A month later I meet up with Dan for this story’s shoot. It’s the day before he opens up shop, and it’s a mistake trying to do anything here what with the circular saw meowing outside, a sparky hanging lights and plenty of wet paint warnings. Still, Dan switches on his shiny new 115k coffee machine and tells us that he’s not in the least bit phased, that he’ll be open for breakfast at 7am tomorrow.
Seeing how his space has transformed into its current manifestation – metro tiles, plush booths, custom steel shelving, raw wood cladding and a forest that seems to have flourished overnight – I believe him.
“Whenever someone asks me what my secret to Yours Truly’s success is I tell them the same thing: Green your space. People know that if you can take care of plants you’ll be able to take care of them. At Up Yours we have 650 plants. As far as a daily routine goes it’s pretty therapeutic watering them every morning.”
Four shops and 1000 plants, Dan, bro, you’ve made it!
“Everything that I have now was never expected,” laughs Dan. “I studied textile design at Tech and was working as a junior graphic designer when I opened my first shop. All I wanted was a place where I could sell coffee, 9-5, Monday to Friday. I thought that that would satisfy me, but with time that’s all escalated and has grown into what it is now.”
One of Dan’s biggest inspirations was the lowbrow art movement that kicked off in the city’s east side before anyone was doing anything there.
“My main inspiration has always been Blaise (Janichon). My motivation, ambition and drive to run my own business comes from seeing him build and do what he did. That Circus Ninja era was such a cool time to be involved in the Cape Town scene. It was such a big inspiration.”
A lesson that Dan clearly learned from those The Bin days was that hosting regular rotating exhibitions would pull in the right clientele and so with his first shop on Long Street he pumped his entire marketing budget into exhibitions. And it worked, because his stamp within the city bowl grew exponentially from those first few shows.
It’s not quite Tony Montana’s “Money, Power, Respect” mantra, but in Cape Town's fickle street scene if you offer some free beer at an exhibition you then pull the artists and the crowd that comes with them, then their friends and the people who want to be friends with them, and it’s like a domino effect where you have the clusterf**k that is trying to get a drink at Up Yours on a Friday night.
Dan’s only option was to open up another shop and pull draughts while the sun shines. Now talent means nothing, while experiences acquired in humility and with hard work is what counts, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that Dan’s no overnight success and has in fact been doing this for five long years now.
“Never in a thousand years would I have thought that I’d be getting interviewed in my corner office looking down Loop Street.” laughs Dan. “I was the first one in this morning and I put on a song, made a coffee and actually had tears in my eyes thinking about how far we’ve come, which is all thanks to the people I’ve chosen to work with.”
Dan’s love for his business is growing every day, and where he initially thought he’d build one shop and then sell off the concept, he can’t imagine letting go of the reins right now.
“I have a morning trade at Kloof with the backpackers trickling down for breakfast, then there’s the lunch crowd at Long with all the people working in the area, and Up Yours transforms into a rowdy beer garden with bands or whatever every night… Yourstruly is a lifestyle now. I can think of nothing worse than selling. It would kill me to see someone else having this much fun.”
So what happens after this new space has opened? How will Dan recover from six weeks of working day and night, an exhausted bank balance and having come close to losing his sense of humour and sanity? An international surf-slash-snowboard trip?
“As soon as we’re done here we move all the contractors to Kloof and have three weeks to redo that. Then we’ll redesign and reopen Long Street. Then we’re slap bang in the middle of season and so between all those spaces we have our work cut out for us. Setting up the business is one aspect. But actually running them? It’s like a beat and finding the rhythm that you want to dance to.”
And, boy, can this guy dance.