For many the idea of healthy eating never sounds appealing because it conjures up an image of boring steamed veggies or a bland-tasting salad.
But healthy food can satiate your palette if you take the time to make it taste good, believes Bontle Tshole (28).
The young Johannesburg foodpreneur is slowly trying to dispel existing misconceptions about wholesome food through a healthy alternative, fast-food business she calls Baaa Smoothie Bar.
“Changing the narrative surrounding healthy eating involves a great amount of consumer education as well as providing healthier food alternatives,” Tshole explains.
Nearly three years ago, the Gauteng-born entrepreneur struck gold when she was able to merge her entrepreneurial spirit with her passions for health and wellness, creating her very own smoothie business.
Her business came to fruition selling smoothies and juice at pop-up markets in Johannesburg she says. “We offered our clients personalized smoothies at these pop-ups. Today the range is filled with a variety of smoothies, juices targeted at your specific health needs.”
Sourcing only the freshest produce from local farmers in the province, Tshole’s food business offers mouth-watering, quick and healthy alternative meals for health-conscious consumers from her flagship store in the Johannesburg suburb of Fourways.
A young girl’s entrepreneurial dream
Tshole has had visions of becoming an entrepreneur since she was a young girl growing up in Boksburg.
Her mother, Mpai, a tenacious businesswoman, was the inspiration behind her intense drive for entrepreneurship.
“From the time I was able to understand the world and the way it works I was able to understand business. That’s all I ever saw, that was all that was ever spoken about at home.
“Growing up with a mother who is a businesswoman was one of the biggest privileges I had. My journey has been a lot easier because there were things that I learned just from looking at her and how she does things
Tshole started envisioning her first business at the age of nine. “I wanted to open a confectionary store, for me it felt like people kickstarting businesses was a normal thing for people to do. I remember writing it down, to this day I still have the designs I penned of what the store would look like.”
She says in time her ideas for her business became more refined with age. “My vision has evolved, I can see beyond that pencil drawing I made as a little girl,” she jokes.
‘The most disrespected person is a black woman’
“When you work with men, there tends to be an oppressive mindset that lingers in the meeting or board room. There’s this expectation that you are a woman and you must know your place, silly gender norms like I must be quiet when a male speaks, and ‘you don’t question what I say’.
“You learn to overcome and grow a thick skin. You learn to deal regardless of what the peanut gallery has to say, you defend yourself whenever someone tries to speak over you.”
‘Life is about balance and that is something I preach to my clients as well.’
Teachings from the novel The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho have taught her that if you believe in the universe’s plan for you, things will work out. “On the first market we ever did, we sold out twice and for me that was just a big moment. I didn’t actually think it would go as good as it went, the success of that day was confirmation that I was on the right path.”
Another breakthrough came in the form of funding from the South African Breweries’ (SAB) Foundation’s Tholoana programme.
“They fund you with a certain amount to start your business. They also fund you equipment, processes – whatever you need,” she says.
Health is wealth
Tshole may specialise in organic smoothies, but she describes her eating style as “moderately indulgent.”
“I believe in balance. You won’t find me out and about drinking green smoothies, I still eat burgers, I go out, I drink alcohol. Life is about balance and that is something I preach to my clients as well.”
The most unusual flavours on Tshole’s juice menu is a beetroot and banana smoothie, she reveals. “It’s one of those things you hear and think OMG no! But it tastes good,” she giggles.
Her ode to indigenous food comes in the form of a sorghum smoothie. “We blend mabhele (sorghum) and some strawberries, with some coconut milk as well. It’s one of those products that people who know sorghum absolutely love.”
Her appreciation for her heritage resonates in some of the labelling of her juices, which include Setswana names like a self-titled smoothie, Bontle, as well as Batho, Lethabo and many more.
“It was really important for me to come back to who I am as an African. Having names like Batho (people) or Bophelo (life), really makes people relate with the brand more. You would find a customer would be so happy whenever they find their own name on a label.”
No one is born an idea factory; creating the perfect product or brand takes time. She advises budding entrepreneurs to keep the faith and keep pushing their dreams. “You will find your feet as you go, have a product that is good enough to take to the market which you can grow and evolve with time.”