Wandile Ndala, a passionate businessman and owner of the Soweto’s famous restaurant, Wandies Place in Dube, tells Adolf Netshiukhwi how he managed to succeed as a small entrepreneur in a historically disadvantaged township.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant business?
I've always have an interest in the hospitality industry. While I was at school, I would cook for my friends. Later, I started a shebeen which became what is now known as Wandie's Place. In 2007, we applied for a tender at OR Tambo International and opened up another Wandie's Place at the airport. The menu is the same as the one that you'll find in Soweto so you’ll enjoy the same great food and we also have some grills at that branch.
Wandile Ndala, a passionate businessman and owner of the Soweto’s famous restaurant, Wandies Place in Dube, tells us how he managed to succeed as a small entrepreneur in a historically disadvantaged township.
What were the three most important things to get your business up and running?
A focused vision/concept, financial backing and an incredible team.
Tell us a bit on how Wandies Place was established and how you have developed it to such a big brand?
During the 1980s I used to run an illegal shebeen, selling food and drink without a licence. I was always very cautious about whom I served because I did not want the authorities to know about my business. It was in 1990 where I was granted a licence to operate the tavern legally and the establishment developed into a well known place. Regular customers who were impressed with the venue started inviting curious non-Sowetans (mostly colleagues) to join them at the restaurant for a genuine township experience. Today Wandies is a popular stop on the itinerary for many visitors in Soweto and Gauteng.
You have hosted famous guests several times, what names come to mind?
Will Smith, Richard Branson, Quincy Jones, Evander Holyfield and my personal favourite, Chris Rock, who came with his wife and kids.
As a restaurant manager, how important is it to have actual experience in every aspect of the business, as you have?
Restaurant management experience only comes with time. The more experience you have, the better seasoned you are. The more you learn about the restaurant, the more valuable you are - not only to yourself, but to any company or establishment.
What's your secret to attracting more customers and what have been some of your most successful promotions?
Secrets for keeping customers coming in? It's a secret! Hee hee. Seriously, the secret is to constantly create a "buzz", to do what you know best and keep people talking about your establishment in some way or another. This is where creativity is a key to business - the more creative the better! Most of all, I am very passionate about providing excellent service and creating memorable experiences for all of my guests. I truly believe in the motto of 'No request too large, no detail too small'. My team and I always look forward to welcoming guests and ensuring that our customers get the most efficient service whilst experiencing the warmth and genuine hospitality of our team.
What are some of the challenges of being a restaurant owner and manager?
The challenge of being a restaurant owner and manager is to always try to make your business better - being the best you can! Love and understand what you do, re-evaluate, create, be different, have a style of your own and remember that, as a restaurant manager, you are responsible for overseeing both food quality and personnel operations.
The most challenging aspects of being a restaurant manager involve training and motivating staff to consistently meet your clientele’s demands. This includes overseeing food preparation and providing culinary and food safety training. It also involves taking a hands-on role in creating a culture that values and offers a level of customer service appropriate to the type of food you are providing.
You've worked in all areas of the restaurant, from the kitchen to the floor to sales. What insights can you share about the differences and the difficulties?
One of the most difficult aspects of restaurant management is getting the introverts (kitchen) and the extroverts (front of the house) to learn to work together. They are a team and need to learn to respect each other’s positions. It is almost like a football team with different positions that depend on one another to make the event happen. If you respect each other’s' job and position, you are headed in the right direction.
What has been your greatest professional success and biggest setback?
My greatest professional success has been to believe in myself. My biggest setback - I don't think that way, I just keep moving forward.
What's the one dish people can't leave without trying?
The samp and lamb. It's the most popular with our guests.
What's your greatest extravagance?
I like to spend money on properties. I have four properties. I have two restaurants, a guest house and one residential house.
What's your most treasured possession?
The house my mother left for me that I have now turned into Wandies Place.
What is the most memorable moment you've had in Soweto?
The day Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. I was at home and everyone in Soweto was sitting in front of their TVs watching. It was exciting and was the moment of real freedom in South Africa before 1994.
What is your favourite magazine?
I'm always reading hospitality magazines. I always try to keep updated on new things that are happening in to the industry.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career or profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in the restaurant business?
"Go for it" and don't be afraid. If you believe in yourself you can do anything. Dream big! The more you connect with people, the more exciting the dream becomes.