“This is a place I will always visit, it isn’t glamorous or stylish, but it is real and to visit Cape Town and miss somewhere like Mzoli’s is to miss the point of visiting South Africa.” This is how one TripAdvisor reviewer describes popular Cape Town township butchery restaurant Mzoli’s.
Launched in 2003, Mzoli’s has become a vibrant hangout for everyone from politicians and business people to students and tourists. Patrons pick their own cuts of meat, which is then cooked over a braai (an Afrikaans word for barbecue).
Mzoli’s is famous for attracting white people and tourists to Gugulethu, a township located 15 kilometres from Cape Town’s city centre and an area that would not normally have been on their radar. More than 15 years after the end of apartheid, many South Africans still live divided.
“We saw a huge opportunity and a gap in the market,” says owner Mzoli Ngcawuzele. “Our main mission was to bring together people from all walks of life. People of all colour must get together over a piece of meat.”
When first starting out, Ngcawuzele followed a top-down approach by inviting professionals in the property and banking industries to Mzoli’s.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver wrote a glowing review of Mzoli’s after visiting the restaurant: “With our plates in hand we came out of the back of Mzoli’s and sat down with everyone else. The meat was beautifully cooked. The simplicity of the rubs and spices they’d used, along with the aromas from the wood, gave it such incredible flavour. The tunes were kicking off in the background and there was some good bass pumping. I just loved it. I felt my age and didn’t feel at all uptight or like I was trying to fit into anyone else’s situation. Bizarrely, I felt at home. Everyone was just happy to be gnawing on bits of meat, dipping into their chilli sauce and sipping beers on a Saturday.”
Ngcawuzele is currently looking at expanding the concept countrywide through a franchise model. “We have already acquired a number of sites across the country to make sure that this entity becomes a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace.”
Besides running Mzoli’s, Ngcawuzele is also a major player in the property industry. He is one of the main developers behind the 23,000 m2 Gugulethu Square shopping mall, said to be the single biggest investment in the township’s history.
Mzoli Properties, Ngcawuzele’s property business, has a specific focus on projects in South Africa’s underdeveloped communities. “I understand black emerging markets,” he notes. He also continues to live in Gugulethu, despite having the means to live in one of Cape Town’s more comfortable suburbs.
Ngcawuzele says he will continue to focus exclusively on his property and meat businesses. “You cannot be everywhere. I am a very focused person. If I do something, I must do it properly.”
He preaches austerity in tough economic times. “[When] things are tight, you have to tighten up the belt. All the luxuries that you are used to, you have to put it aside. If you have to eat dry bread, let that be. This time is going to pass, then you can go back to your luxurious stuff. If you are used to driving a Merc . . . then you get a Toyota.”
And his advice to other entrepreneurs? “My advice is very simple. You must love what you do. You must be honest. Everything that you give out to your customers, it has got to be of quality. Those are the disciplines one has to follow. There are no shortcuts. And get out there and give people what they deserve.”