Fruits for the palate and the palette at Roots

2009-10-02 12:31

Reggie Makhetha epitomises the new breed of Soweto entrepreneur whose business acumen and flair with food is helping to change the culinary landscape of the township.
 
The 31-year-old has established one of Soweto’s “in” spots, Roots Restaurant and Gallery, the first in the township to combine a dining destination with an art gallery.

“I am exhibiting works by a lot of township artists but I want to eventually bring in artists from the other provinces and later from other African countries,” he said.

Makhetha’s dream is to enlarge the gallery, improve the kitchen ­facilities and erect an upper deck which will give diners an excellent 360 degree view of Soweto.

Interestingly, the ­restaurant is situated on the corners of Dimakako and Mphuthi streets in White City, Jabavu, across the road from Morris Isaacson High School where the 1976 Soweto uprising began. The area has since been proclaimed a historical monument and is a drawcard for local and global visitors.

Makhetha’s vision and business brains earned him a R100?000 grant from the yearly SAB KickStart programme which has empowered more than 22?000 young South Africans with business skills and training, and has enabled more than 2?200 fledgling businesses to be set up.

He so impressed the judges that he was named a Gauteng finalist and is now in line to clinch the grand prize of R200?000 when the awards are held in Johannesburg on October 20.

Makhetha added that the restaurant business in Soweto has hit boom times as tourists, wanting to grab a feel of that special township vibe, flock to the many eating establishments dotting the vast township.

Next year, with the Soccer World Cup, eating out in Soweto will be big.

Makhetha has been owner of Roots Restaurant and Gallery for 18 months now and has a real feel for the business. “I always dreamt of owning my own business but could not raise the capital. I heard about the SAB KickStart programme on the radio and ­applied. I won a grant and this helped me to improve the facilities.

“I also went into a mentoring programme in which I was taught how to handle my finances, how to do marketing and advertising. It has been good.”

Roots, which seats 100 patrons and has a staff of five, attracts local ­residents and tourists ­because it not only serves genuine township food but has an added vibe that celebrates Soweto life.

He said: “It’s a mix of cultures coming together to see who we are and what makes us tick.”

His menu offers all the popular delicacies such as mogodu (tripe), stew, dombolo (steamed bread), samp and there are always a few surprises and specials on offer.

Makhetha would like to see more South Africans from outside the township venture into Soweto and sample the various restaurants on offer. “Once we get them here, they love it and feel comfortable and at home.”

He is fully aware that he is in a very demanding business, but the motivation is his love for people. “Each day is different so I don’t get bored.”

His ultimate achievement, he said, would be for all people to experience the tastes, sounds and rich colours of Soweto. Makhetha has plans to open a similar ­establishment in the township of Gugulethu in Cape Town.  

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