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Sophia Town Bar Lounge: Ziggy And Mzwa Thabethe

Two former waiters open their own restaurant in one of Jozi’s hippest centres

Juliet Pitman

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Ziggy And Mzwa Thabethe of Sophiatown Bar and Lounge

When brothers Ziggy and Mzwa Thabethe started waitering in restaurants, they, like many other youngsters, were simply hoping to earn some extra cash. But where these entrepreneurs differ is that they used the experience to learn all they could about the restaurant business– and today own one of the hottest spots on the Newtown bar and restaurant scene.

“The man we worked for at Ocean Basket was a fantastic person to learn from, he was very hands-on and very inspiring. We were waitering at his new branch, so we had exposure to the full set-up process of a restaurant from scratch. It gave us a good feeling for what it takes to set up an operation properly under considerable time pressures and make it work,” recalls Ziggy.

The pair fell in love with the energy and buzz of the restaurant trade and vowed that one day they’d own their own spot. 

In the meantime, however, they set about gaining experience. “Mzwa headed overseas where he worked in a number of different bars and restaurants, all the while gathering information about different processes and ways of doing things, while I managed a call centre at Dimension Data overseeing about 30 people, which gave me invaluable experience in managing, motivating and interacting with staff.

It was a sophisticated corporate environment where customer service was everything,” relates Ziggy. In many ways, however, the brothers were destined for entrepreneurship. “Our father was a hawker and as young boys we worked hard helping him buy, repackage and distribute vegetables to informal settlement dwellers.

At the end of each day, we had to make sure that the money balanced otherwise there’d be hell to pay!” Ziggy laughs.

Each new thing they learned, the brothers added to a growing repertoire of business knowledge, which was to prove invaluable when it came to opening Sophiatown Bar Lounge in the heart of Newtown. They explain the drivers behind the brand:

“We wanted to create a place that would unite people under one roof, something that would have an energy and vibe and a personality of its own. Sophiatown is close to the heart of so many South Africans and was a place that reflected the kind of individualistic, cosmopolitan energy we were looking for.

It’s about culture and heritage and we also knew that the theme would attract not only locals, but the tourist trade as well.”

What they hadn’t planned for was the amount of media attraction the venue would generate. “To be honest our marketing was initially not great but the media just loved the idea and we got loads of free exposure, which was a good sign that the place had the kind of attraction we were looking for” says Ziggy.

There can be no doubt that the media hype and market response are partially the result of the fact that Ziggy and Mzwa understand their market intimately. The reason they believe that Sophiatown Bar Lounge is so successful is that it reflects the vibrant buzz of the young, hip, Newtown scene, and offers a menu that’s an eclectic mix of local South African dishes with a twist of sophistication as well as regular live music and DJ events.

“On any given Friday, the place is pumping from 4 pm,” they explain. 

But early windfalls were balanced by some significant challenges. The brothers experienced tremendous difficulties in getting finance from one of the country’s leading banks. “It was a nightmare,”relates Ziggy, “We had to have a signed lease in order to get funding but once the lease was signed we waited months for the money we’d been promised to come through. This meant that in total we paid R180 000 in rent over those months,without any money coming in from the restaurant because we needed the capital to set it up. If we hadn’t had our other construction and plumbing business to support us and provide the rent money, the whole venture would have folded.”

Assistance came in the form of intervention by Khula Enterprise Finance, an independent agency of the Department of Trade and Industry. They got the funding they needed, but their experience highlights the many difficulties entrepreneurs face in accessing funding through traditional channels.

However, the future looks bright and Ziggy and Mzwa are in consultation with the Franchise Association of South Africa and the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller to franchise the Sophiatown Bar Lounge concept. “We want to be the biggest black-owned franchise in this market in the next five years and although it appears to be earlier than we had anticipated that’s only because the demand has been so great.

Our customers want this venue in Cape Town, in Soweto, all over South Africa and we already have a list of 15 prospective franchisees,” says Ziggy. Just goes to show what hard work, vision and passion can achieve in a little over a year.

Contact: +27 11 836 5999, www.sophiatownbarlounge.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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