Kombo King: Story, Founders, Investors & Funding Rounds
Growing up in the Townships of South Africa, Kombo Kings co-founder, Zithulele KK Combi, understood the massive demand and gap in the market for quick, consistent, and healthier fried food that is freely and easily available.
Kombo King (Pty) Ltd is a 100% black-controlled company that focuses on designing and producing smart controlled fast food frying equipment.
Kombo King aims to become a force in manufacturing; this will provide their country with much-needed, skilled, and semi-skilled jobs through the manufacturing sector and retail industry.
This all clicked into place when KK visited China years ago, as part of the South African economic delegation.
It wasn’t fried food but noodles, the Chinese staple, as the locals lined up in front of a vending machine at an airport.
The idea popped out. Africa and fried food. He was already thinking big, a vending machine for fried food.
Back home, KK embarked on the project with Ari Jacobson. Together, the entrepreneurs co-founded Kombo King, focusing on the drive to create consistent products out of a fryer that could be anywhere, no external extraction needed. The added element was speed.
Kombo King can now boast customers such as PnP, Engen, and King Pie whilst targeting further major retailers.
While they have strong blue-chip clientele, there is still excitement for the informal sector – a business-in-a-box solution for a township trader.
Their dream and their innovation continue and you are at the airport or train station. You see a fried chicken and chips vending machine. You put in your money and three minutes later there is a piping hot fried meal.
Technology is only a reality in a live environment. Kombo King opened retail stores at Cape Town Station and Strand Street in Cape CBD.
A chance meeting with PnP leadership led to an invitation to bring the innovation in store.
The pilot grew within the Value Store division, and there have been many lessons and many iterations over the last three years in these stores.
Simply put, get a good product out into the market and then perfect it. This they did.
The Kombo King retail stores have been closed and the fryers stand behind the deli counter in four stores, with a further roll-out into three other stores, as part of a broader exposure to the PnP Group. PnP has now accepted that Kombo King’s approach to fried food is the future.
Next came Engen as it rejigged its forecourt offering and soon thereafter King Pie. There is a substantial rollout into both brands.
How it Works
To achieve the innovation they sought after, they have designed and prototyped a fryer solution that can automatically fry pre-packaged, par-cooked, or fresh meals without needing expensive ventilation infrastructure to remove odors.
When compared to conventional fryers, the revolutionary ventless fryer offers retail stores a cost-effective alternative.
The fryer from Kombo King saves money on energy and oil while also saving room in the kitchen.
Kombo King’s ventless fryers, designed and manufactured in South Africa, are said to improve the quality of food served in the value market.
This significantly reduces the investment needed and eliminates costly waste arising from bulk-frying the food.
The automatic frying process also reduces the training needed for operators who are cooking the food, ensuring that the cooking process is controlled by pre-set recipes.
Kombo King will supplement the cost-effective, efficient, and consistent frying equipment provided to clients with connectivity previously unseen in local or international fryers – the Kombo King IoT connectivity (currently in development) uses uniquely developed hardware and software to relay useful information to cloud-based data servers.
This information can be used to monitor locations, upgrade firmware remotely, monitor compliance, generate useful business information, and generate supply chain efficiencies – particularly where these systems do not already exist.
The invention took ten years to realize, using product developers in SA and the current production is through a local manufacturer. It’s a truly South African product.
Kombo King has been in operation with a focus on developing world-leading fryer technology. The well-established team of Zitulele ‘KK’ Combi and Ari Jacobson came together again to pursue the Kombo King concept.
The fryer has been approved by Test Africa, which sets standards in South Africa for such equipment, and the go-ahead from the City Council in that their fryers do not require extraction.
Kombo King, as a technology company in the fast food industry, is always having to balance three priorities, speed, consistency, and freshness in delivering a meal.
This while ensuring the queues are managed satisfactorily for the customer. No other equipment can do it better.
Kombo King is becoming an innovation leader in the massive fast-food industry and is putting South Africa firmly on the innovation map.
Ari Jacobson is the current Founder and CEO of Kombo King.
He previously worked at Vividend Income Fund Ltd (VIF) as a Chief Executive Officer.
Zitulele KK Combi is the current Founder and Executive Chairman of Kombo King.
He previously worked at Massmart Holdings Limited as a non-executive director.
Investors & Funding Rounds
Kombo King received an undisclosed amount of funding from The Vumela Fund, a joint venture between FNB Business and Edge Development.
The several health and safety benefits of the Kombo King products as well as the fact that they’re designed and manufactured locally were the key factors that drove the investment decision made by Vumela and Edge Growth.
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