Wing­ing IT

Destiny - - Exit interview - BY Ke­mong Mo­pedi

TLHOMPHO MOKOENA, OWNER OF THE WING REPUB­LIC IN BRAAM­FONTEIN, JOHANNESBURG, SAYS OPEN­ING HIS EATERY WAS A CLAS­SIC CASE OF PREPA­RA­TION MEET­ING OP­POR­TU­NITY

How did The Wing Repub­lic come about? In Au­gust 2014, I was in­vited to the Locrate Mar­ket in Soweto. This was shortly af­ter I’d left my Brand Man­ager gig at Metro FM for the Na­tional Film & Video Foun­da­tion and now had my week­ends to my­self. I searched the en­tire mar­ket for some­thing meaty and spicy, but found noth­ing. Be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur at heart, I iden­ti­fied this as an op­por­tu­nity and told my mom about it. A few days later, she came home with a griller and the idea of sell­ing chicken wings came to us.

How did the pop-up busi­ness grow from that one mar­ket? We made a de­cent turnover at the first few Locrate mar­kets. A year later, we se­cured a spot at the an­nual DStv De­li­cious Mu­sic Fes­ti­val and from then on, I made brand­ing the busi­ness my pri­or­ity. I’m a mar­keter be­fore a foodie, so I un­der­stood that people buy into brands way be­fore they buy into taste.

At what point did the idea of a restau­rant oc­cur to you? While I was still op­er­at­ing from pop-up mar­kets and fes­ti­vals, people would of­ten ask if they could get our food else­where. I de­cided to take a leap of faith with a restau­rant. Prof­itable as pop-ups are, banks and fund­ing in­sti­tu­tions deem them in­for­mal.

What has full-time en­trepreneur­ship taught you about money? That every cent counts. I’ve reached the stage where I weigh por­tion sizes just to en­sure I’m not short-chang­ing my­self! What sac­ri­fices have you made along the way? In 2016, the busi­ness was mak­ing a de­cent turnover and I had a good job as a Se­nior Mar­ket­ing Man­ager at the Small En­ter­prise De­vel­op­ment Agency. I de­cided to spoil my­self with a BMW. Af­ter all, I’d been driv­ing my Golf 1 for seven years. Four months into driv­ing this fancy car, I re­alised I wasn’t gen­er­at­ing any money out of it. I was pay­ing a monthly in­stal­ment of over R10 000 on a car into which I couldn’t load my stock and equip­ment for fear of dam­ag­ing it. I had to pay a hefty bank penalty for re­turn­ing it.

How piv­otal was men­tor­ship in your en­tre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney?

Around the time that the idea of open­ing a restau­rant started grow­ing on me, I at­tended the 2016 Fran­chise Expo, where I met the key­note speaker, Greg Solomons, the CEO of McDon­ald’s SA. Af­ter I’d ha­rassed his PA for months, he fi­nally agreed to take me on as a mentee. Our con­ver­sa­tions have taught me a lot about sys­tems and book­keep­ing. I ini­tially wanted to have an ex­ten­sive menu, but he made me aware of how that would slow down the kitchen. We re­cently added ribs, burg­ers, pasta and a break­fast menu, but the main­stay of our busi­ness is still chicken wings. What are your fu­ture plans for The Wing Repub­lic? I’d love to open more stores in Johannesburg, ex­pand to a few prov­inces and sub­se­quently go the fran­chis­ing route. I want people to crave our food of­fer­ings, so – un­like our com­peti­tors – I don’t want an out­let on every sec­ond cor­ner.

How do you un­wind? Down­time’s a rar­ity in my life, but when I get it, I like to spend it with my wife and three sons.

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