Sakhumzi Maqubela (48) opened the first restaurant on the iconic Vilakazi Street in Orlando, Soweto, 18 years ago. He shares his inspiring story of entrepreneurship with Kwanele Mathebula. Pictures Peter Whitfield
My parents inspired my passion for business. I was born in Meadowlands, Soweto, and my family moved to Orlando in 1979. My parents were entrepreneurs; they sold alcohol to taverns around Soweto. Their entrepreneurial efforts showed me that I, too, could become one. In 1986, I moved to the Eastern Cape to attend boarding school at Cofimvaba Daliwonga High School. While there, I started selling sweets to make extra money in addition to my allowance. Although I wanted to be a doctor, I wasn’t good at maths and science. But, I knew that I would become a businessman.
I worked at a bank for nine years before starting my business. I matriculated in 1991 with poor results, which meant that I couldn’t further my studies. I then spent the following year at home until I found a job as a messenger at First National Bank. A few months later, I moved on to do filing, then became a clerk in 1994. From then on, I worked in various departments such as IT and ATMs. The experience fuelled my desire to start my own business.
Sakhumzi Restaurant was launched in 2004. After my parents died, I inherited our home. It quickly became a favourite hang-out for my friends, even while I was at work and sometimes until late at night. This often meant that I had to share my food with them. This sparked the idea to start selling food and drinks that they could enjoy while hanging out. Seeing how popular this was among my friends, I decided to offer the same service to other people in the neighbourhood. I hired four people to run the business while I was at work. In 2004, I signed up for the SAB Kickstart Programme, aimed at developing an entrepreneurship culture among young black South Africans. Here, I received business skills training and development, and that equipped me to grow my business. After completing the programme, I registered Sakhumzi Restaurant and hit the ground running. I resigned from my job and used my pension to fund the business. With an existing customer base, I was confident that it would thrive.
Running a restaurant is tough; I didn’t expect the problems that came with the expansion. I found myself suddenly having to be responsible for hiring staff, marketing and handling the finances. Furthermore, I realised that I didn’t study my market well. I depended on my friends to support the business, but they were the first to disappear once I launched it. With all the mistakes I made and lessons learnt, I started Dinner with Sakhumzi, a forum to share my lessons with aspiring entrepreneurs to help them avoid the same mistakes.
The fact that Sakhumzi has be running for 18 years is a huge highlight for me. To have paved the path for 11 other restaurants to open on the same street is a huge accomplishment. Additionally, being one of the biggest employers in Soweto, with a staff of 110, makes me proud because I give people a chance to better their lives and provide for their families. I encourage them to work in different departments within the restaurant so that they can gain more skills to find better jobs someday. Seeing them leave my restaurant and prosper at other companies always makes me happy.