Winning Women: A nose for great food

2013-04-21 14:00

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Ndo Hendricks-Ntuli started her business selling pap and vleis on the street. Today, she’s the first female stall holder at the Joburg Market as well as the co-owner and manager of a large Midrand restaurant. Sue Grant-Marshall spoke to her

The rising sun is shining its long, low rays over the largest fresh-produce market in the world, the Joburg Market, when Ndo Hendricks-Ntuli arrives to check that all is humming at her Pula Nala Market Agent stall.

She’s got a huge consignment coming in – 3?000 tons of butternuts. The first female stall holder at the market is a hands-on operator.

She has gone from making up fruit and vegetable hampers to sell in the Midrand area where she lives to exporting produce to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

As word of her hampers spread and orders flooded in, she asked existing stall holders at the market to give her some space so that she could cut up fruit and vegetables to put into her hampers.

But it’s a bustling, tough world in the market, with everyone jostling for space.

So Hendricks-Ntuli decided she would create her own space, with her own stall.

Management suggested she start with two other aspiring women and together they formed Sthe-Nkosi.

She says: “As we were the first women there, we were given a really hard time and the (other two women) pulled out.”

But Hendricks-Ntuli is no pushover. She bought out her partners and formed Pula Nala Market Agent.

Her next hurdle was dealing with farmers who had built up relationships over years, and sometimes generations, with Joburg Market agents.

“It’s all based on trust. They bring their produce to us in faith, as we’re the brokers. I haven’t seen the faces of half the farmers I deal with,” explains Hendricks-Ntuli.

She now works with big commercial farmers and, increasingly, with emerging farmers.

But, she says: “In the beginning their quality was not up to standard.”

She adds that their standards are now “improving” and her “passion is to help them make it”.

She is full of praise for the year-long Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme she attended last year.

She points to a graph depicting her summer sales from January to March last year, R334?000, compared with this year’s figures for the same period, R927?000.

“I can now read my financials and nobody can cheat me any more,” she says. “I’ve also learnt how to motivate my staff with proper training, and also how to know, lead and master myself better.”

The cherry on top, she says, was learning how to “clinch a deal without selling your soul”.

She says: “Women tend to deal themselves down, but now I can handle farmers, negotiate better payment options and even give some of them discounts.”

She now supplies outlets in Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Swaziland.

In addition to her Pula Nala business, she’s partnered with her husband, Martin Ntuli, in an African restaurant called Emlanjeni in Midrand, Gauteng, trading as Ndondo Trading.

It can seat up to 150 people and lies on eight?hectares of land on the banks of a stream, surrounded by weeping willows, other trees and shrubbery.

She is still in the process of renovating and vastly extending the old house on the property, doing it bit by bit as money becomes available.

Scaffolding is evident, but not obtrusive and, in its three years since opening, Emlanjeni has attracted a sizeable clientele.

Hendricks-Ntuli has built a children’s playground and, over weekends in particular, the grounds ring with happy shouts while parents watch from a large outdoor deck nearby.

She declares herself in love with her toddlers, aged three and five, saying: “Hectic as I am, I read bedtime stories to them nightly. You never regain this phase of their lives.”

She plans to build a boutique hotel and conference centre in time, and waves her hand across large tracts of green lawn to where it will be erected.

She’s changed out of her Joburg Market jeans and takkies, and is elegantly attired in high heels, slacks, a pearl necklace and gold hoop earrings.

She keeps a close eye on the restaurant, as food is one of her passions.

“People come here for soul food – pap and tripe, in particular. No matter how important my guests are, they still want the food their mothers and gogos prepared for them in their youth,” she says.

The size of her grounds enables her to host huge events. Her clientele range from the Development Bank of Southern Africa to Pikitup, Vodacom and the Ekurhuleni municipality.

She grew up in the Boksburg area. She was one of four children whose parents were both entrepreneurs.

Her mother bought clothes at factory shops in Doornfontein and sold them in townships near Wattville and Actonville.

“Every year at Christmas, my father took us to farms at Bapsfontein where we bought huge bowls of peaches and sold them on street corners. We kept the money from what we sold to buy our own Christmas presents,” she says. This enterprising approach instilled a deep sense of “doing it for yourself” in the young Hendricks-Ntuli.

She graduated from Tshwane University of Technology with a national diploma in analytical chemistry in the 1990s.

She’s worked in several pharmaceutical companies as a laboratory analyst and, finally, at Waste Tech as a consultant.

In 2004, she decided to use, her “God-given nose and palate” and move into food, leaving a highly paid job with cushy benefits.

She says family and colleagues thought she was mad. She recalls telling a friend: “But I have always been passionate about food. Make me a cooking drum. I am going to sell pap and vleis on the streets.”

When she married and moved to Midrand in 2005, she was up at 4am, braaing on her balcony.

She then moved into a garage, but the demand for her food deliveries to local residents, and then as a caterer for big events, was such that the couple bought a large townhouse with a big kitchen.

One of her catering clients was the Joburg Market itself, and that is when she hit on the idea of fresh-food hampers.

In time, she wants to extend her business, creating a food brand “families trust the most”, both locally and in the SADC.

»?If you’re a female entrepreneur who needs a springboard to more success, sign up for the fully sponsored Goldman Sachs-Gibs 10?000 Women Certificate Programme for Women Entrepreneurs at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. Visit

»?See Tenders for the fourth in our Winning Women business advice columns for female entrepreneurs

Business tip: ‘Know your weaknesses – and ignore them.’

Mentor from childhood: ‘My mother because she was always so entrepreneurial.’

My mentor now: ‘My husband, because he thinks big and sees possibilities in the impossible.’

My favourite business book: ‘Developing the Leader Within You, by John C. Maxwell. He examines the differences between leadership styles and outlines specific ways that we can apply principles for inspiring, motivating, and influencing others.’

My inspiration: ‘This comes from top businesswoman, Wendy Luhabe, who started out life as an ordinary township woman like me, and turned out to be extraordinary.’

Professional help: ‘My cohorts in my Gibs group, as we support each other.’

The first person I rang when I decided to start my own business: ‘My mother, who advised me not to do it. For once I didn’t listen to her.’

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