When you sit down to talk to Thabo “Thabs” Bekwa about his business, Indalo Street Food, you know straight away that this a man who is excited about the food industry. We sat down to chat at the Stellenbosch CoCreate Hub, where Thabo is preparing and serving his delicious food to Stellenbosch residents, business people, and students.
The married father of three who lives in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch is originally from East London in the Eastern Cape and sees his business as an opportunity to create his own legacy. With a warm smile, Thabo tells me that rather than base his menu on the style of other chefs, he is working to create his own style – preparing traditional food with a modern twist.
Thabo has learned his skills on the job, training in kitchens such as that at JC le Roux under the tutelage of experienced chefs. While the experience was invaluable, Thabo explained how the head chef of a kitchen is the one who decides the menu and food preparation methods. As a sous chef or assistant chef, your job is to make sure that dishes are prepared to the head chef’s specifications. Thabo wanted to have the opportunity to make the creative decisions for himself and decided to take the plunge and go out on his own.
Rather than rent a premises, Thabo decided to rent a food truck, setting up shop in Kayamandi. While the food truck has been a good starting point for his business, Thabo explains that food trucks are geared towards fast food and although it is a viable business, does not give him the chance to prepare the kind of food he loves. Once he started operating at the CoCreate Hub, Thabo decided to continue operating the food truck – employing young locals eager to learn from him. He sees Indalo Street Food not only as a business, but a means of community empowerment and an opportunity to uplift others.
Grilling is Thabo’s specialty, and when asked how he decides what’s on the menu, he explained how important it is to make sure that the dish is balanced. Texture is an important part of the dining experience and so he ensures for example, that a crispy meatball is complemented by a side dish like a soft polenta chip. With his new venture, Thabo is perfectly situated to share his culinary creations with local residents, Stellenbosch University students, and visiting tourists. When planning his menu, Thabo has to take all these different prospective diners into account and make sure that his food has a broad appeal.
Even though he has a number of years in the food service industry, as a relatively inexperienced business owner, Thabo is grateful to the Ranyaka Building Business programme. “I have attended some of the meetings already. We are given training about important aspects of our business. In our last workshop, we had legal training – to make sure that our businesses are compliant,” he says. Together with his wife Phelisa, owner of Phel’s Hair and Beauty, Thabo appreciates the support and mentorship that Ranyaka provides.
In the short term, Thabo is focusing on establishing himself in Stellenbosch and furthering the training of others using his food truck. In the future though, he would really like to find a way of expanding his business and even maybe franchising so that his business can provide economic oppo-rtunities to more people, especially in provinces like the Eastern Cape. He believes that if opportunities are available where people live, they will not need to relocate in search of greener pastures.
Thabo believes that small businesses are vital to the wellbeing of the country’s economy because they support one another. “One small business will support other small businesses – it is like a chain, with each business supporting each other.” Thabo’s drive and commitment to build a legacy is what inspires him on his entrepreneurial journey. While the Covid-19 pandemic did have a negative effect on his business, it has made him more determined to succeed and to make sure that others also have opportunities.
Thabo tells aspiring entrepreneurs, “The best way to achieve a dream, is to start. Start with what you know and go from there.”
Stellenbosch is one of 9 towns in 7 provinces that is part of Nedbank’s Proud of my Town initiative.