Launching a new business is fraught with difficulties under normal circumstances, let alone if you are doing so in the middle of a pandemic.
Jane Nshuti of Rondebosch, however, is up for the challenge.
This culinary entrepreneur was among the first eight SMMEs graduates of the Makers Landing Food Incubator Programme in May.
Supported by the V&A Waterfront, R63 million investment in Makers Landing, in partnership with the National Treasury’s Job Fund, the programme combines online learning, classroom sessions, industry experts and use of the Makers Landing commercial kitchen – housed within the reimagined Cape Town Cruise Terminal – to fast track their businesses.
The structured programme offers opportunities to qualified start-ups and existing small food businesses that can show that they will benefit significantly from mentorship, training and affordable access to a licensed commercial kitchen space.
For Nshuti, the owner of Tamu by Jane, the four-month intensive training programme equipped her with the business know-how to launch her enterprise.
Nshuti says she always loved cooking, but it was something she did on the side. When the hard lockdown came last year she didn’t have a permanent job and turned to cooking as a means to earn an income.
“I have been wanting to go into the food industry for a long time, but there was so much I didn’t know. The business side was lacking. The programme helped me put systems in place, in the sense of costings and order forms.”
At a young age, Nshuti and her siblings fled from Rwanda to a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where she learned to cook to feed her two brothers and one sister even though she was the youngest. She explains that her siblings went out to look for food while it was her job to cook.
After moving to Kenya to live with her uncle, she became a Seventh Day Adventist, a religion that emphasised personal health and exposed her to vegan cooking.
She began cooking plant-based meals for her family members and friends to convince them of how delicious healthy eating could be. She now has a growing social media following, featuring her creative, healthy and delicious food.
Nshuti says she strives to influence a culture of healthy eating through plant-based foods. She strives to create awareness around African plant-based food.
“When you tell people you are vegan and you are black, they go into this shock mode. Our ancestors didn’t necessarily live on meat, they actually lived on plants. Meat was just for special occasions and ceremonies,” she says.
To introduce people to food from different African countries, Nshuti hosts plant-based African feasts on Sundays at the Woodstock Exchange.
“We haven’t done so since the adjusted level four came into effect. The theme at the last one we held was ‘The land that feeds us’,” she says.
Besides South and East African Sunday lunches, her product offering includes gluten-free superfood wraps, home-made plant-based proteins and desserts.
Her goals include creating a plant-based eatery with strong African food influence; developing a retail line of her current home-made products, including gluten-free wraps, meat alternative and cheesecakes; and becoming a social and ambassador presence for plant-based living.
She is currently writing a story-type recipe book focused on African regional food.
“In the book, I look at the food that our ancestors used to eat.When my family and I first got to South Africa, we saw Amaranth (a leaf vegetable) growing wild everywhere in Mpumalanga.”
She says she was surprised to learn that even though this leafy vegetable is eaten across Africa nobody in South Africa saw it as food.
“This is when I realised it is not so much about food security but more about food knowledge. That’s why I highlight different African foods which we can add back in our diet.”
She adds that Amaranth is gluten-free and extremely healthy.
“The other day, I needed Amaranth seed for a recipe and a local store wanted to charge me about R100 for a kilo and yet these plants grow everywhere. “When we don’t realise what we have, others will, and then they put a really big mark-up on it.”
Nshuti says that the incubation programme, which demonstrates the value of assembling the right partnership ecosystem, skills and resources, has also brought her closer to realising her dream – to start a food revolution.
“I can’t think of a better way to do this than through African plant-based food. Not only is it about sustaining ourselves, it is also about our heritage. One person can initiate change, but it actually takes a community. The programme helped me to become a part of this huge culinary community which I can influence. It has given me a voice. It is my starting point to, in a progressive way, start this plant-based African food revolution.”
The next programme will run from Tuesday 3 August to Wednesday 1 December. Applications closed on Wednesday 30 June.
The programme consists of two sessions a week, of two to three hours each. The course content, which was developed by Stellenbosch University’s LaunchLab and industry experts, is a combination of online modules, in-class learning and individual assignments. These are supplemented with technical expert support and weekly mentor meetings.
Alex Kabalin, V&A Waterfront retail sales executive, explains: “The incubation programme immerses entrepreneurs in an inclusive and innovative space where they will be nurtured by food industry mentors who are influential and successful in their own right. By matching natural creativity and passion for food with knowledge and new skills gained, our food entrepreneurs will be better prepared for success in what is a tough and competitive industry.”