When Kagiso Mongale was growing up in the North West town of Mogwase, a stone’s throw away from Sun City, he found his love for food. But even after suffering many setbacks, he did not give up. He overcame his challenges and started over as the owner of a catering and events business.
The youngest in his family home, Kagiso was tasked with house chores. But washing dishes and mopping floors did not bring him as much excitement as preparing supper for his grandmother, Boitumelo, his aunt, Masego, and sister, Boipelo.
“We all had to do our chores from a very young age. I was around eight when I developed this passion for cooking,” he says.
From the North West he relocated to Pampierstad in the Northern Cape, and then went to Johannesburg after he matriculated. He went on to pursue his studies in business administration, but it was short-lived and two years later, he dropped out.
“Something was always calling me to the kitchen,” he says.
From waiting tables to business owner
He first dipped his toes in the culinary industry as a waiter at Lekgotla in Sandton, and later a tasting chef at Woolworths. His dream to cook and run a business culminated in 2008 when he founded Bontlefela Catering and Events alongside his sister, Boipelo. However, their journey into business was short-lived.
He returned to waiting tables, and was lucky enough to be sponsored by one of his aunts to pursue his studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Following the birth of his son, Oratile, he dropped out and moved to Durban where he started his career in sales.
His calling for food, however, would not subside. “My passion was now calling me. I returned to Joburg and started reviving the business. I developed a website and put life into our social media, rebranding from Bontlefela Catering and Events, to Bontlefela Entertainment.”
Only the brave succeed
The food business is tough, Mongale admits. “Sometimes you deal with missing equipment, late payments and even jealousy from neighbours.”
But nothing, not even cancelled events or legal threat, could keep Mongale down. “Those setbacks are something that have helped me grow as a person and as a man,” he says. “It motivated me go on and keep pushing.”
As long as your guests are top priority, you should be able to cope with any catering, he adds. “You need to love it and ask yourself what exactly you want to achieve. Do you want to bake? Cook? Or both?
“Before you commit yourself, make sure that you know this thing is not temporary chief. Be prepared for sleepless nights and very long hours. The greater the effort, the greater the success of your business. Act.”
Food For Mzansi gets more insights into the enthusiastic and passionate foodpreneur behind Bontlefela Entertainment.
Noluthando Ngcakani: Who has been the inspiration behind your culinary journey?
Kagiso Mongale: Food has always been a journey of me wanting to get to know my late mother. She passed on when I was young. Sometimes I like to think that my love for food was something that I was born with or inherited from her.
“Food is my one connection that I still have with her.”
What are some of your fondest kitchen memories?
Funny story … when I was a toddler, I was a picky eater and I never really liked certain vegetables like onions and tomatoes. I would always ask my granny to leave that gravy off my plate because I did not like it. When I learned how to cook, it was like a transformation. Now that I was cooking as a young boy, there wasn’t anything I did not add especially tomatoes and onions to. I started to experiment. Jollof rice, di tlakwana (offal) – I add those veggies that I once hated into everything and just love it.
Are there ever moments where you can just take a breather?
As entrepreneurs we work around the clock. Just last night I was at an event hosted by Black Label. I got home at one in the morning. Mind you, this is after curfew. I have people who work for me, but I had to pack up with two of our employees, Naledi le Walker. All of this after this whole preparation where we were serving beef shins, samp, chakalaka and coleslaw, as well as chicken runners. It was quite a hectic night, but this is my life.
I came back home and had to pack all the stock we used. I work from home, so I had to repack all the equipment, make sure that everything is okay, recount whatever food was left.
This is my life and I wouldn’t trade it.
What advice would you give to prospective culinary entrepreneurs?
Always follow your passion. It always works out. Each and everything in life requires you to make an effort – whether you are in business, cooking or even if you are a parent. Passions need to be nurtured. Success does not happen overnight; it takes time and whatever you nurture, will always come back to you. And it will always work out for you. Follow your path, believe in yourself and put in work. The rest will follow.
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