#LEARNING CURVE: Retrenchment leads Motherwell pair to booming food business

Abongile Ngqezu, left, co-owner of Food At Work, with one of his employees, Simbulele Links
TASTE OF SUCCESS Abongile Ngqezu, left, co-owner of Food At Work, with one of his employees, Simbulele Links
Image: Annelisa Swana

What should have been an unfortunate event in their lives turned out to be a blessing for two young Motherwell business owners.

After being retrenched in 2017, Abongile Ngqezu, 26, and Lonwabo Wass, 25, did not sit around feeling sorry for themselves, but started their business Food At Work.

Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started?

We were born and bred in Motherwell. After being retrenched from a hotel, we decided to start our own business.

We had acquired cooking skills at the five-star hotel we worked in, so it was time to put that to good use. What started as a business to make ends meet has grown so much in the past three years, and we were able to employ people as we could no longer cope and needed extra help.

Our business is mobile, we move around to sell our products. Being born and bred in Port Elizabeth has been an advantage for us because we know our way around the city. We cook our food at a kitchen that we rent in Cape Road and we spend the rest of the day out and about taking our food to the people of Port Elizabeth.

What is your core service?

We go door-to-door to companies selling our products.

What makes your business unique?

Our food is affordable and fresh. We come to you wherever you are to sell our food products, you do not need to come to us.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

If you want to start a similar business to ours, you have to know how to cook and how to use a scale and calculator because in our kitchen, those are the most important factors.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground?

Capital was an issue because we did not have money. We got rejected a lot when we started because people did not know us, and they had never tasted our food.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Be goal driven, know what you want and work hard to achieve that.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your particular industry?

There is a lot of competition in the food industry. Weather conditions are also a challenge since we have to go door-to-door to sell our food. We don’t have a car. Sometimes it’s raining, or it’s too hot but we have to do what we have to do in those conditions to make sure that our business stays booming.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

Never give up. If at first you fail, get up and try again.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

Waking up daily to do what we love and make money from it, to us that’s success. At the end of each day we consider ourselves and our business successful.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

We always make sure that our packaging is appealing, and our food presentation is always on point. Our food is always fresh. So the moment our clients see these, they are attracted to what we sell and this causes them to speak about us and we get more clients that way.

What kind of advertising do you do?

Word of mouth advertising.

What is your company’s vision?

To serve our clients quality food.

What is your target market?

We target mostly companies, but anyone who meets us on the street and wants to have any of our products, we sell to them too.

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

At the end of the day when we sell everything that we have made, that is a highlight for us.

How important is social media and an online presence for your business?

Social media is very important. We are creating an online presence for our company. We’ve depended a lot on word of mouth, but we can see that if we are on social media we will be able to reach more people.

How many people do you employ?

We have employed four people.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

Yes, we do want to expand our business. We want to own a food shop one day, not only in one place, we want to cover a lot of areas in Nelson Mandela Bay. With proper planning and saving money we will definitely be expanding very soon.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

We took from our savings, and our parents assisted as well.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

You have to able to communicate well with customers, because sometimes people buy from us because of how we communicate with them. Remember, there is a lot of competition in the food industry so for someone to trust that your pie is better than the one next door, you have to communicate that with them.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?

Our biggest challenge is robbers, because we work with money and we walk all over, so we have to always be careful of being robbed.

What are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

Be presentable, never give up and work hard

What are the key traits of a successful employer?

Take care of your staff. Have a good working relationship with your staff and pay them well.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

You must always stand out, and make sure that you offer the best to your clients. Our industry is packed, so find your niche and stand out from the rest.


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