A passion for food brought them together. Now they share it with the food lovers of the Garden Route. How? Through their food trailer business called Uzuri the Experience.
Mpho Mapatsi and Patience Mackleyn founded their business in 2019 in George, after having resigned from a well-known insurance company.
The duo had bonded over a shared love of food.
“She [Mackleyn] would comment on the food I would post. I then started cooking more and people started to notice,” Mapatsi explains. “We then started getting food orders for Saturdays at work.”
It was actually Mapatsi who ignited the foodie in her, says Mackleyn. “Mpho introduced me to good food, I fell in love with her food, and I thought why not share my experience with everybody else.”
The past year has seen a great deal of businesses close, especially in the food industry. For these two life returned to normalcy when the beaming faces of their patrons reminded them that they were back on the right track.
“It has been the experience that people have received from something we have created or enjoying something we have created,” says Mapatsi.
Food for Mzansi’s Noluthantho Ngcakani spoke to the food-loving duo.
Where did you find inspiration on your food journey?
Mapatsi: Growing up in a big family, my granny, Julianna Bachman, used to cook food that was quite wholesome. I have always wanted to recreate that.
As the oldest child and having to cook for my siblings, I used to do it out of obligation.
My love was ignited when I started working at one of the local restaurants in Kimberley during my holidays when I was studying. Seeing the effect food had on people once you put that plate down, evoked that passion or triggered it in a way.
From a business perspective, what are some of the toughest lessons you learned in the last two years?
Mackleyn: Without proper planning things go crazy.
When we started our business, we did not plan for Covid-19. That is something that really knocked us hard. We couldn’t go out there and cook as we wanted to.
My advice to someone who is thinking of starting a business, is to plan. Rather be over-informed than clueless. You can never have enough information.
Did you ever imagine you would start a career in food?
Mapatsi: In my matric year I had no confirmation from an institution yet. I came across the International Hotel School in Cape Town, I downloaded the prospectus and showed it to my folks.
Being from a black family where you are encouraged to venture into certain career paths, they weren’t necessarily supportive of “funding a hobby”.
Studying BCom, I knew that I always wanted to use that knowledge to start my own business. I just never knew that it would be the food business.
What is the cooking style at Uzuri the Experience?
Mapatsi: Fast food. We draw inspiration from different kinds of cuisine, whether it is Asian cuisine or Western American style fast food. We fuse that with our African flavour as well.
We also offer catering where we shine with African cuisine like umngqusho and chicken feet.
What are the challenges of running a business without formal experience?
Mapatsi: If you are not professionally trained as a chef, you are regarded as a cook. Just by that distinction, by not having that qualification even though you may have the experience and the ability, the value difference is so huge.
That gap for me is what I want to fill.
What is the most fundamental lesson you learned about starting a food business?
Mapatsi: Gaining the necessary information. We had only fully complied with municipality bylaws by the time we had launched the company. That was a bit of a flaw on our side.
You go to the municipality, and you have three or four offices to engage with, [they have] conflicting messages or information.
I would advise anyone starting [a business] to find a mentor or someone who can help guide them from the beginning of this journey. You need to know about tax, you need an understanding of food safety laws.
We ventured into it out of excitement, not necessarily having done our due diligence as extensively as we needed to.
While you did not necessarily spend time in the kitchen, what inspired you to take the leap of faith?
Mackleyn: My partner, Mpho. I wasn’t really interested in food. I was a people’s person.
I could get people together and all of that, but she is the one that showed that this can be done, and this can be big.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting a business?
Mapatsi: Upskill constantly. You have already identified that you see potential in yourself. Don’t just rely on that potential, you need to know what you don’t know.
I couldn’t knead dough to save my life, but with the help of YouTube videos, I learned. Now we offer things like bread bowls, this is something that I did not know how to do last year.
We also used the lockdown as an opportunity to do courses online on social media, upskilling to leverage and expand the business.
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