Marcos and Istvan Jordaan. Picture: SUPPLIED
Marcos and Istvan Jordaan. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Financial Mail chats to Istvan Jordaan, co-founder of smallbatch confectionery brand Basilei.

You and your brother founded the company. What are your professional backgrounds and have you always been in confectionery?

Though Basilei only launched in September 2016, its true origins date back to the start of the millennium. It was then that my old man decided to hone his craft as an artisan. He developed countless exciting recipes and products. Naturally, my brother Marcos and I, being kids at the time, found ourselves helping in the kitchen, and we eventually learnt the skill ourselves. More than a decade later, we decided to introduce the world to these delicacies.

Basilei’s conception was a marriage between heritage and a pioneering heart. Having travelled quite extensively and lived abroad for five years (in Sydney), we had a reas o n able benchmark of what quality products look and taste like.

Our opinion is subject to strong family ties, but we thought our father’s creations were exceptional, creating the perfect launch pad for what is now Basilei Handcrafted Confectionery.

We started planning the genesis of our food baby in February 2016, and sold our very first product that September.

I worked for Australia’s Super Retail Group’s e-commerce wing, as well as in the sports coaching industry (I’m still a co-owner of a tennis academy in Somerset West).

My brother just finished his honours degree in management accounting and is considering which route to take next to profit his career and his involvement in Basilei.

Basilei's mint chocolate fudge. Picture: Instagram/Basilei
Basilei's mint chocolate fudge. Picture: Instagram/Basilei

Why the name Basilei?

I had to translate ancient manuscripts as part of my degree, and stumbled upon the word basilei during the first semester of my final year. It stayed with me long after I forgot most of the language I had learnt. Basilei originates from an ancient Greek word that means royalty, majesty or kingdom.

When we brainstormed what type of brand identity we wanted to build, these words resonated with us. We also felt that the name broke away from more traditional approaches to family business names and would evoke curiosity in customers.

Any predictions for trends in SA’s confectionery industry?

I am no futurist, but I think it’s obvious that the pioneering nature of technology and food science ensures ever-expanding horizons when it comes to dessert creation.

We will continue to see products that we never considered c reatable or edible.

I also think the fusion of design and confection is booming, and the public is becoming more aware and appreciative of the aesthetic value of food. This presents incredible scope for photographers, florists designers, visual artists, architects and so on to create career possibilities in the industry.

I would love to think that Basilei can be one of the players in this game. It’s exciting to think of the potential partnerships and collaborations that could c rea te products that delight the senses.

Name your “hero” ingredients.

Pure cocoa mass and high-quality flavouring from Döhler, the German pioneer in flavouring. Much of the quality of our products is reliant not on scarce ingredients, but on the technique used to produce them.

In terms of product development, where do you get most of your inspiration from?

Online tools such as Instagram h ave shrunk the global marketplace, making it a small community with many inhabitants. It’s a mecca of creativity and innovation.

Picture: Instagram/Basilei
Picture: Instagram/Basilei

For us, the key has been to redefine people’s perception of the seemingly dull and overlooked stalwarts of the industry. There are numerous “forgotten” confections that have suffered at the hands of mass production. We’re simply grave robbers, stealing marshmallows out of campfires and dressing them in designer gowns.

The SA pantry is filled with scents and flavours that are untested in the confectionery family, and the market’s growing consciousness of adventurous eating will continue to push guys like us to satisfy that desire.

What has been your biggest challenge in founding a start-up?

The biggest challenge is to not make short-sighted decisions. It is essential to begin with the end in mind, creating a clear vision for what it is that you desire to accomplish. Once you have such a vision, it acts as a compass, hopefully directing the ship towards its most fruitful destination.

A vision helps you navigate big decisions at an early stage, including how to manage your cash flow, who to involve in the business and which opportunities are right for the particular “season” that the business is in.

The general “theme” of our business has been positive, but we have definitely made short-sighted decisions along the way. Thankfully they have not been detrimental ones, and we have avoided taking unwise routes.

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