Ngwato Mashilwane (41) was born and raised in Ga-Marishane, a remote village in Limpopo. He went on to obtain a BComm degree at Unisa and followed it up with a master’s in business leadership from the same institution.

“I worked in government for several years, and in 2006 I went into private business,” Mashilwane says. “I’ve been at it for about 10 years.”

His business Mash Braai House is situated in Fourways and now also in Oakdene, Johannesburg. It’s an elegant version of a shisa nyama, and is one of the most popular restaurants in the city. While it has a great reputation now, the journey to business success was anything but smooth sailing.

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Mashilwane says the idea for Mash Braai House came to him in 2012, which is when the slog began. He wanted to diversify his business portfolio by getting into the hospitality industry. Many business people who choose to go into this industry buy franchises, but Mashilwane believed there was still an opportunity for new brands that would have a “fresh” twist on things.

His idea was to bring the easy, carefree environment of a shisa nyama into upmarket, modern spaces. It would be a shisa nyama set-up, with a township flavour, that appealed to a higher living standards measure (LSM) market.

“It’s so easy for people to get caught up in their high lives, driving their big cars, staying in their mansion and flying all over the world,” he says. “They forget the simpler side of life – that is, walking into a restaurant and ordering mogodu, manqina, umleqwa, skopo, something you grew up on, and digging in with your hands. People need to remember how that feels.”

Once I have built value, I can decide to go into a franchising model or to sell

Mash Braai House first opened its doors in Bryanston, but coming to occupy that space proved to be an uphill battle.

“It took a lot of convincing, because the landlord did not believe in the whole idea and concept of a shisa nyama,” he explains. “I eventually offered to pay the whole year’s rent up front for 2013. That was the only reason the landlord gave me the property in Bryanston.”

The next hurdle was getting a liquor licence. It was issued to him only in September of the same year, which is when the restaurant could finally open.

“I lost almost a year’s rent,” Mashilwane says. “There was only a matching income of about three months. I literally spent one year negotiating space and another year waiting for a licence. So it was a tough start.”

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Start-up challenges

Mashilwane says some of his biggest challenges was starting a brand from scratch, building relationships around that and penetrating the black middle-class market.