Ruth Butaumocho Gender Editor
Creating successful new businesses is still possible, given hard work, a good idea and a quality product at the right price. Mrs Similo Ndiweni, from Bulawayo is one such individual, who with basic secondary education, talent, grit and a bit of luck fought her way up to become one of the few female restaurateurs in Zimbabwe.
She runs Mumsies’ Kitchen, with branches in Bulawayo and Harare.
“What I own today are products of hard work, sheer determination and the urge to succeed against all odds,” she revealed in an interview in Harare recently.
The eateries, which were established from a backyard kitchen in Bulawayo five years ago, have become a household brand in the two cities, specialiasing in traditional dishes, an area that has become a hub for prospective entrepreneurs.
Boasting a wealth of experience she acquired while growing up in the rural areas, she has made Mumsies’ Kitchen a well-known brand, where hearty home meals that remain true to Zimbabwe food classics, are served in serene ambiance.
For Mrs Ndiweni, the eateries have not only become a source of pride and a platform to exhibit her culinary skills, but they have also become an affirmation that one’s background cannot overshadow one’s vision.
Born to an impoverished family in Filabusi, where her mother had to scratch for a living following the death of her husband, Mrs Ndiweni never imagined that one day her humble background would turn into a success story.
And never did she imagine that one day, her life would be more than a change of pace, but an inspirational story that many would want to tap from.
Looking at her meticulous dressing, coupled by a stylish hairstyle, you would never imagine that this woman endured so much while growing up and only acquired her first pair of new shoes in her early teens.
“I had a tough and difficult life while growing up in Filabusi. With only mom to fend for us following the death of our father, our dreams and hopes for a better life were shattered. We had to live by the day,” she recalled.
Because her time was now divided between assisting her mother to feed three of her siblings and attending to her school work the latter suffered. It therefore did not come as a surprise to her family when she failed her O-Levels.
“I had always wanted to be a nurse, but that dream never materialised after I performed badly at O-Level. My mother could not afford to send me back to school,” she said without a glaring shade of remorse.
In the haze that followed, she tried her hand in fashion and designing, a course which she ended prematurely after she decided to get married and escape the unending economic woes.
Although she had happily settled in her new habitat, Mrs Ndiweni realised she needed to generate income for her new family and her siblings.
With no formal education or professional experience that would land her a stable job, she decided to try her hand on home-made meals, operating under a tree in one of the industrial areas of Bulawayo.
Her debut experience of matching her culinary skills with the market proved to be a success. She recalls serving 10 customers, who were satisfied with her menu and even requested her continued services.
Buoyed by the positive comments, the following day Mrs Ndiweni successfully prepared her second servings of traditional dishes, which were heartily received.
“By then my clientele was growing by the day and I was constantly being arrested by the Bulawayo City Council for operating illegally.
“One day a colleague asked me to look for a proper place, where I could operate from,” she said.
Mrs Ndiweni eventually settled for a caravan in 2010, giving birth to Mumsies’ Kitchen. Because she had already established herself as a food connoisseur, the place received overwhelming responses from residents of Bulawayo, forcing her to move into the central business district, barely a year after setting up Mumsies’s Kitchen.
Although a lot of eateries were focusing on Western dishes, with burgers and chips taking the toll on chefs and cooks Mrs Ndiweni continued her exploration and experiments on traditional dishes, using a myriad of organic ingredients.
Her perseverance, determination and eagerness to become a brand name in the provision of traditional gourmet gave birth to yet another eatery.
By then she had gained confidence and trust of traditional cuisine food lovers in Bulawayo’s CBD, for her unparalleled culinary skills.
Probably her trump card in the business has been active participation in the preparation of the food, which she personally serves to her clients.
“The plate on its own sells itself, before the customer has even tucked into the food,” she proudly declared.
Running on the “nothing ventured nothing gained” adage, Mrs Ndiweni has since expanded her operational territory by setting up an eatery in Harare.
Although she has got no formal training in catering she considers her mind as the most important space where her culinary skills are conceived and fomented.
She believes that nothing beats determination and hard work, which she says are crucial tenets of success.
“I did not achieve much academically, but I did not let that deter and cloud my vision,” she enthused.
Her pillar of strength and business advisor has been her husband and partner of 28 years, whom she describes as her greatest supporter of her business ventures.
Despite her milestone achievement in the hospitality industry, where her product is increasingly becoming a household name, she however concedes that the terrain has not been smooth. She has had to contend with a myriad of challenges with failure to access financing from banks being the major one.
“The challenges remain the same. It is not easy to get a loan from financial institutions, but you have to continue pushing the boundaries,” said the mother of four, who is already planning to move into the CBD, barely weeks after announcing her arrival in Harare.
A firm believer of female empowerment, Mrs Ndiweni says promotion of women in the economic sector is crucial and can prop up the country’s fortunes because of the multi-dimensional roles they play.
“Empowering women to become part of the economy will create a ripple in the lives of other women, children, communities along with the nation as a whole,” she said.
Because of the prevailing economic environment where operational costs are high, making it increasingly difficult to start a business, Mrs Ndiweni urged women intending to venture into business to opt for catering, describing it as “accessible”.
Her endless passion, energy and drive to provide unique dining experience makes her a formidable force in the hospitality industry.
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