From varsity dropout to fabulous foodie – on R350

Pumla Gobelo started a thriving food business in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The fabulous foodie Pumla Gobelo started her thriving food business in Butterworth in the Eastern Cape off the back of just R350 that she has built into a booming money spinner over the years. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

With only a R350 child support grant in her pocket, Pumla Gobelo started Mbuks Catering Services in the Eastern Cape. The food entrepreneur took a leap of faith and through hard work, her business has taken off.

Pumla Gobelo is the owner of Mbuks Catering Services in the Eastern Cape. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Gobelo, who is from Idutywa, 150 km from East London, relocated and started her food business in Butterworth in 2011.

“I started my business right after I dropped out of third year evarsity. I studied retail business management at the Vaal University of Technology. Some people don’t believe me when I say I started this business with R350 from child support.

“I wanted to own a mobile kitchen but had no funds. Ten years later, boom, I bought my mobile kitchen. I love my job more than anything. I wake up every day and hustle and the feedback is always positive.”

She believes it is always a good idea to be original in the food business. “I never mimic other people’s work. I always invent my recipes and make sure I perfect everything I touch. In most cases, I cook my cuisine over an open fire in black pots, which also distinguishes me [from others],” she says.

Her business has become a household name in her community. Social media has been a powerful tool that has helped to grow her business, Gobelo says. “With everything I have, I appreciate neatness and cleanliness. I believe that is one of the things that draws people to my cuisine.”

RECIPE: Mmmeaty mince pie from Mbuks’s kitchen

A helping hand

Pumla Gobelo shares her food passion with the community of Butterworth. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Like any other entrepreneur, Gobelo faced many challenges when she first opened the doors of her food business.

For one, it was difficult for her to adjust to her new surroundings of the uMsobomvu Village in Butterworth, a village foreign to her native Idutywa.

“That was the most difficult year of my life, but I had a friend who offered me a place to continue working, and everything started to fall into place after that.”

Her friend, Ace Ncobo, the owner of the local tavern in the village where she ran her business from and a former referee of the international football body Federation Internationale de Football Association, soon turned into her business mentor.

As a plus-sized woman, Gobelo says she was often fat-shamed in the village she now calls home. Imbukumbuku [the fat one] was a favourite insult amongst her new neighbours. “It disturbed me at first,” Gobelo says.

“I shared this with my mentor and he said, ‘You know what? To spite them, let’s call you Chef Mbuks. and that’s where the term ‘Mbuks’ came from.”

Down but never out

While she never attended culinary school, food and cooking has always been a passion. “I always knew I wanted to be my [own] boss in the hospitality industry, so I studied in business and had a hobby on the side.”

Pumla Gobelo specializes in kasi cuisine and is the queen of Kota’s in Butterworth. Photo: Supplied/Health For Mzansi

The Covid-19 pandemic brought on many challenges and her business had to close due to regulations. “I established my brand, Mbuks Catering Services, and I had been saving all these years. I had a little amount left and Facebook friends also donated some money, so I could buy the mobile kitchen,” says Gobelo.

Ever resilient, the mother of four adds, “I promised myself that I would not be defeated by lockdown. Instead I wanted to show off something, and that something was my lovely mobile kitchen and my brand launch.”

People go to Mbuks Catering Services to dine in while others go to pick up their orders. Things are better than before, Gobelo says.

She hopes to create jobs one day, particularly for the youth, with her own chain of restaurants in the Eastern Cape.

“I usually tell people that if you believe in yourself, there is nothing you can’t achieve in life. You have to trust the process and as long as you put in more effort, it will happen, no matter when.”

Gobelo was recognised as one of the top five female business changemakers in the Eastern Cape at Zozibini Tunzi’s (Miss Universe 2019) welcome gala dinner in February 2020. To her, it was the finest moment of her life.

RECIPE: Mmmeaty mince pie from Mbuks’s kitchen

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