Tapiwa Gunzha is not only an ice cream maker. He is a storyteller. He is a child of Africa. And he has found a way to fuse all of these passions into one.
Gunzha believes that African stories and cultures remain unheard too often; also that food is integral to the expression of culture. That is why he uses his range of ice creams with their African-centred flavours as a starting point to talk about Africa’s cultural diversity.
The Zimbabwean-born entrepreneur and microbiologist initially started Tapi Tapi online. He used the online store to gauge how people would react to ice cream as an educational tool. Then, in February 2020, he opened a walk-in store in Observatory in Cape Town.
A product with a story
Gunzha finds that ice cream is a great way to open people’s minds to the diversity of African cultures. “Ice cream is a nice neutral backdrop to showcase flavour without any of the difficulties and stigmas around how things look, and especially the unfamiliar. If it looks just like ice cream, it is ice cream. It’s a nice way of convincing someone to try something new; something different.”
For Gunzha, the ice cream business is just one aspect of a greater educational project. “What’s really important is to showcase African stories correctly. The nature of how I do that is either through my own voice, or through my visual medium, or through the things that I cook.
“It’s an opportunity to tell unheard stories and unshared stories, which is a huge problem on the continent. We know so much about European mythology, Asian mythology and their stories and history without really hearing our own selves reflected in our formal education and informal education.”
Some of the flavours offered by Tapi Tapi are Mweya, which is Zimbabwean and includes rooibos and imphepho smoke, Thiakry (degue), which is millet couscous and sour milk from West Africa, and Mowa, a flavour found across the continent, made up of amaranth greens and yellow plum.
These are Gunzha’s tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who may want to start an ice cream business:
1. Be clear on what you are trying to achieve
“I’m an educational space that uses ice cream; I don’t just sell ice cream. I use ice cream to impart knowledge and to share knowledge and to gain knowledge. That distinction is very important for me. So [my advice] is definitely to be clear on the vision of what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to sell a product? Are you trying to tell a story or trying to make money at any cost? What is the actual focus that you have on this business?”
2. Start small
“Start small. If it’s a matter of getting ice cream carts, if it’s a matter of having a food truck, if it’s a matter of just selling lollies online – figure out a small way of starting. The more important thing for me, though, is just to start instead of trying to wait for a huge funding opportunity or waiting for everything to be just right. Just get on with it and start.”
3. Find your niche
“Be unique in your own way. Figure out how you’re going to stand apart from other businesses. And for me that was an easy enough thing. I don’t necessarily see people in the ice cream space as my competitors because they sell ice cream. I sell and share culture more than anything else, so that’s how I’m approaching it.”
4. Be consistent with your product quality
“Consistency in the quality of your product versus consistency in what you’re making. For me those are two different things. I make a quality product always, but I refuse to make the same-tasting flavours. Even if I was to repeat a flavour, I would never repeat it the same way. Consistency for me is about your principles more than the end product. The quality and standard of the product has to be consistent.”
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