WATCH | Trading spanners for spatulas - Soweto food truck owner 'repairing tastebuds' one burger at a time

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  • Tiyani Maluleke blended his love for cars with a passion for good food when he started a burger joint in Soweto.
  • Maluleke, a qualified mechanic, lost his income before the pandemic in 2019 and started Grub Worx to stay afloat. 
  • He's slowly growing his business, but a little crowdfunding could go a long way, Maluleke told News24. 

Tiyani Maluleke swopped his spanners for spatulas when he lost his income prior to the pandemic. The 27-year-old now makes a living selling food in Naledi, Soweto, from a truck he built himself.

Maluleke, a qualified mechanic, built the cart and bakkie he operates from. Now, he makes mouthwatering homemade beef or pulled pork burgers - and, when the opportunity to trade at food festivals crops up, he adds smoked ribs, chicken wings and dessert options to the menu.

A family friend lent him the utensils, like an electric pan and a portable fryer, needed to start his business.

"I started Grub Worx with literally nothing in May last year," he said. "I began trading from the pavement outside the house."

The Grub Truck

But his food stall was not mobile, and moving to different trading locations presented a challenge.

So, four months after starting his food journey, Maluleke took a major risk: "I took everything in my credit card and bought material to build the shell for my cart."

He merged his mechanical and culinary skills and mounted the kitchen shell on his grey VW Caddy, turning it into a self-made food truck.

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"I repaired my car, placed the cart on the back, and we've been moving since," he laughed.

"Grub Worx is based on my taste and how I think food should be prepared and presented," Maluleke said, referring to the influx of fast-food restaurants in townships that prioritise profit over quality. It's also behind the tag line for his food business, "repairing tastebuds". 

27-year-old self-starter Tiyani Maluleke makes mou
Maluleka swopped his spanners for spatulas when he lost his income prior to the pandemic.
News24 Kayleen Morgan

A tough time

Maluleke has always been a survivor. He was forced to take the reins of the household when his father was diagnosed with kidney failure.

"It's been tricky. I had to grow up really early; 90% of my time was dedicated to caring for my sick father," he said.

"Things continued plummeting, and we lost our home in Randburg, so we moved to Soweto in 2018."

But the move didn't deter him from achieving his goals.

"My reality now was a major shift from what I'd known," he said.

"I've been dealt tricky hands, but I haven't let that get to me; I just keep it going."

When his business of fixing cars started operating at a loss, it forced his hand. Maluleke even considered returning to his home province of the North West.

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"I had several big clients, but eventually business began slowing down, and there was no money coming in," he said.

Unable to make a move without any income, Grub Worx was birthed as a way to "start my new start".

Maluleke said the journey continued to be challenging, even though community members and customers actively support his business.

27-year-old self-starter Tiyani Maluleke makes mou
27-year-old self-starter Tiyani Maluleke makes mouthwatering burgers from a self-made food truck in Soweto.
News24 Kayleen Morgan

"I've been through some financial setbacks, like bad storms damaging my infrastructure and costly vehicle breakdowns. These derailed me," Maluleke said.

He's since begun crowdfunding, using a backabuddy page to help fund the materials needed to extend his kitchen and grow his business.

"You can never be prepared; things might be good today and bad tomorrow, so you need to calculate every move you make. There's no longer space to act impulsively."



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