Rita Zwane's grilled meat eatery, Imbizo Shisanyama, has become one of South Africa’s favourite hangouts. And this pioneering businesswoman hasn’t stopped there.
By: Thabiso Mochiko
It all begun in 1997 when Rita, affectionately known as MaZwane, opened a small eatery in Ivory Park, Tembisa that sold pap and vleis (corn porridge and meat in Afrikaans) on the go. A former receptionist and waitress, she had a vision of formalising the shisanyama industry and today this sector is one of the fastest growing in SA.
Affectionately known as “Busy Corner” Imbizo Shisanyama, the eatery, has become a social networking place and the economic hub of the burgeoning township. It is a truly authentic African dining experience – from the quality of food to the music and general ambiance – that meets its brand promise of providing Africa’s “ultimate braai experience”.
Given how cutthroat the industry is though, from the onset Rita wanted to be different from her competitors as “pap and vleis was easy to sell and anyone can do it”.
“I wanted to achieve and have a place that not only attracts locals, but also foreigners and give them an authentic African experience. Style, Class and Dignity were the values on which I built the business,” she explains.
“We are very clear with the type of audience we are targeting and the ambience we want to create for them. I am happy to say that I managed to achieve this and have created the busiest corner in Gauteng Province… or maybe SA.”
Like many entrepreneurs, it took years for Rita to secure funding as the bank needed to understand her business model. By the time she received funding, she had almost completed the expansion of the Imbizo outlet using her own savings.
The best shisanyama in SA
In 2017, Imbizo was named the best shisanyama in SA by beer company Windhoek. Not only did Rita manage to grow Imbizo into one of the most popular spots in Johannesburg, she was instrumental in the creation and growth of more than a dozen small and micro enterprises that continue to support the restaurant on an ongoing basis.
These businesses include security services, cleaning services, the outsourcing of chakalaka and the establishment of a car wash for her patrons.
“I believe that for a business to succeed, it needs the support of the community,” she says.
Today Imbizo has a staff complement of more than 60, with plans to hire more when it opens a new establishment in Midrand in March this year, catering for the younger millennial market.
“Young people have been supporting us and we want to give them an experience suitable for them.” This will be Imbizo’s third outlet; its first outlet is a grab-and-go format with no sit-down.
An advocate for youth development and mentorship, Rita demonstrated her passion for young people when she launched the Busy Corner Imbizo Shisanyama Bursary Programme in 2012, which offers eager young people from the surrounding community an opportunity to pursue a career in the dynamic South African food, beverage and hospitality industry. One of the beneficiaries is now a manager at Imbizo.
In 2017, Rita, who has several prestigious awards under her belt, stepped down from the operations of Imbizo and is the managing director of Mgobane Investments Group, Imbizo Shisanyama’s holding company.
Although her involvement with Imbizo is on an advisory role, she is still continuing with her vision.
Rita’s goal is to advance the entire shisanyama sector through the establishment of the Shisanyama Association of South Africa (SASA) – a body aimed at formalising the industry and leading to the next decade of growth and expansion.
Always on the lookout for new investment opportunities and partners, she also plans to explore opportunities in property development.