The Woman Behind Darkie Cafe

By Drum Digital
14 July 2014

She is leaving the food world to focus on her new company, Africa By Africans.

Charlotte Monakisi grew up dreaming of travelling to the stars. But then a school project made her forget all about being an astronaut, and she started dreaming of travelling in Africa instead.

Soweto-born Charlotte was in primary school in Johannesburg when she had to research Ethiopia for a school project. She became captivated by the beauty and richness of the continent and confused by its poverty. “This was during the famine in Ethiopia and I did not understand how such a beautiful country could be going through all this suffering,” she says.

The experience affected her in two ways. “From that day on I had a longing for travelling,” she smiles. She also made up her mind that she would learn more about Africa and find ways to help build the continent.

Now the 35-year-old restaurant entrepreneur’s dream of making a difference on the continent she loves is finally about to come true. She is leaving the food world to focus on her new company, Africa By Africans, whose first big goal is the launch, in May, of Network Africa, a forum for movers and shakers in the business world who share the drive to advance the economy and wealth of Africa. At the same time her television programme, Business Africa, will has been airing on e.tv, also with the aim of building business partnerships across the continent and aiding and motivating aspiring entrepreneurs.

To follow her dream Charlotte has decided to sell Darkie Café, the restaurant whose chandelier-lit white leather furniture, mirrored walls and dark wooden floors have welcomed diners in Johannesburg’s Central Business District for the past seven years. Feeding customers is another detour this science graduate never expected to make.

Charlotte cut her teeth as business owner in a notoriously high-risk segment, becoming a restaurant franchisee. She owned a Mimos restaurant in Jabulani, Soweto, and eventually a branch of FTV, a spinoff of the international fashion TV brand. Both businesses struggled, but Charlotte says they gave her “grey hairs but zero regrets. I would do this all over again.”

It’s tough talk from a fearless entrepreneur who, when the stress gets too much, goes dancing. Charlotte is a keen salsa dancer and last year joined her dance studio on a trip to Cuba, where salsa dancing is a lifestyle. But even when partying in the streets of Cuba, she never lost sight of the goal instilled in her in primary school: to bring together the best business minds on the continent to fight poverty and drive progress.

Her company NETWORK Africa will serve as a marketing platform for people across the continent and from various industries, Charlotte explains.

She has invested two years into developing the concept, with research assistance from the Gordon Institute of Business Science, who shared their expertise on the continent’s powerhouses, and people with television production experience.

Charlotte’s most important support, however, comes from closer to home. Not only has her mother Stella Motsoeneng supported her restaurant ventures, standing in for her when she couldn’t be around, but her dad Johannes Monakisi is her mentor.

“My dad came to Johannesburg from Pietersburg with nothing but the clothes on his back. He never completed school but he managed to build a successful transport company. He is my greatest mentor and I have so much respect for him. He always tells me that I can achieve anything I put my

mind is and if I work hard,” Charlotte smiles, knowing she is sharing exactly the sort of African success story her new venture hopes to help write.

By Thembisile Makgalemele

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