It’s Cocktail Friday at Vuyo’s in Braamfontein and the place is packed with a potent mix of Wits stu- dents and business people taking in the weekend mood. Anyone strolling by might well mistake it for a TV advert – a lively bunch sipping on daiquiris and tucking into the best wors rolls in town in the sleek, red and white restaurant that opened in the snowfall of December 2012.
The snowfall was organised by its founder and owner, Miles Kubheka, widely known as “the real Vuyo”, to attract attention to his grand opening. Images of him sporting a chef’s hat in the blizzard outside his restaurant graced Joburg’s papers as Vuyo’s was born.
It started with the Hansa advert about Vuyo,” Kubheka explains. “Along with the rest of South Africa I watched it many times and thought: nice advert. However, the more I watched it, the more I realised that, while it was advertising Hansa, the unintended consequence was that it was building the Vuyo brand.”
A big, big dreamer
The advert features “a big, big dreamer” named Vuyo who starts out in life with a boerewors stand. Vuyo’s wors is so good that he ultimately goes global with it and transforms himself into a lovable, celebrity ￼tycoon on who owns speedboats and planes and takes trips to outer space but who never forgets his friends. It’s a modern fairy tale for entrepreneurs.
Enter entrepreneur Kubheka, whose dream is to have South Africa’s best-loved fast-casual restaurant and to take South African cuisine to the global stage. He and Vuyo make a perfect match. Kubheka realised this and immediately started researching Vuyo.
After establishing that the Vuyo character was fictional I trademarked the name. It took two long years, but once that was done reality began imitating fiction and I started dreaming big,” says Kubheka, whose branding identically matches Vuyo’s in the advert. While Kubheka might not yet have that yacht and plane, to emphasise his aspirations he named his top of the range wors roll “Air Wors 1”.
“Vuyo has been incredible for me as a start-up restaurateur and entrepreneur. I could never have purchased the brand equity it has given me, and it’s ongoing!”
How creative! How ingenious!
Kubheka even had a friend film a “mocumentary” of him in space, just like Vuyo, for a competition where the first prize was a trip to space. “I didn’t win but a lot of people saw me on YouTube and Facebook, which entrenches my brand.”
What’s more, Hansa is supportive of him. Refilwe Maluleke, Hansa’s marketing manager, said: “Hansa is a brand built on the premise of inspiring people to create their own success and, as such, we are encour- aged that it is having the desired effect among fellow South Africans who are doing it for themselves.”
That’s where the easy ride ends
But that’s where the easy ride ends. Having headed his restaurant and brand for almost a year, Kubheka (37) is no stranger to what it takes to be a self-made man. He previously founded and managed an IT solutions company, which he left in the hands of his business partner Dr Michael Magondo in order to focus on his restaurant and franchise.
Their IT company produced a range of novel prod- ucts, including customised software for improving public service delivery. An example is their emergen- cy medical services solution for a provincial govern- ment department; it pinpoints the location of every ambulance at any given time, and the speed at which it is driving. “Ambulance to incident assignment is a key issue in saving human life, and therefore the driver closest to the emergency must be the one assigned,” says Kubheka, who studied IT at Wits during his Commerce degree.
“It was during the dotcom bubble days, and I figured I would have a better chance of becoming my own boss one day if I mastered technology,” says Kubheka, who, on graduating, worked as an IT specialist with Microsoft before going on his own in 2007.
A gastronomist with a global goal
Switching from IT to the restaurant trade might seem like an extreme change but it was first nature for Kubheka, who comes from a family that loves cooking and food. He describes himself as a “gastron- omist with a goal to lead a global South African food movement”.
“I aim to share the exceptional natural and cultural richness of our land through the diversity of our cuisine,” says Kubheka. He believes that South Af- rica would do well to address its issues through its stomach.
What is South African food?
“We do not have a clearly defined South African cuisine, and therefore nor do we have a well-defined, unifying culture. We need to ask ourselves: what is South African food? Is it pap and wors? In my opin- ion the same amount of care, creativity, scholastic effort and citizen participation that was put into our national flag and anthem is required to define our South African cuisine.
“We need South Africans from all cultures to put forward their contribution into a drie-voet pot to work out who we are. This is part of what I am doing through Vuyo’s,” he explains.
His menu is a proudly South African lineup – in- cluding dishes like lamb, mutton or beef potjie served with dombolo (steam bread dumplings), steak and pap, mielies, samp, and tripe on Mondays (it’s such a favourite with the customers they order it a week in advance). Not to mention the flagship Vuyo’s wors, which is extremely well priced at R20 for the Standard wors roll with caramelised onions and R35 for the Air Wors 1, served with delectable homemade chakalaka, red and white coleslaw, parmesan and cheddar.
It’s comfort food presented in a stylish, casual way, and it caters to every pocket, including a special student “Room Service” menu. Students living in Braamfontein or in any of Wits’ residences phone in on a separate line and their order is delivered to them at special rates. He also caters for functions and events (Wits is a client) and he’s at the Fourways Market on Sundays. The man and his team work 24/7; Vuyo’s is open at 8am for breakfast (delicious cappuccinos) and closes at 9pm. He absolutely deserves to succeed.
“Great freedom comes with great responsibility,” says Kubheka.
Still, he would not swap it for a corporate job. “I’m a born entrepreneur, as is my wife Dineo, a pharmacist by profession who opened a string of pharmacies. As we are both in the retail business and the hours are very long, we really cherish the little time we get to spend together with our five-year-old boy Khanya.”
An ardent believer in entrepreneurial development as the way forward for South Africa, he believes two aspects that should be part of our country’s job creation solution are: to adjust the current black economic empowerment model and execution strategy so that it empowers the average South African, and to start focusing our country’s collective resources, brainpower, IT and skills on the small, medium and micro-sized enterprise (SMME) sector.
“If it’s a phenomenal idea, invest in it”
“For the next ten years we should unashamedly invest in SMMEs. Irrespective of whether the business is a ‘black idea’ or a ‘white idea’, if it’s a phenomenal idea, the government should invest in it. More businesses provide more employment opportunities for more people. If this does not happen we are risking the alternative of major disruption like Zimbabwe, from which it takes an extremely long time to recover.”
Kubheka believes the government’s reli- ance on jobs from large corporates “is not only placing a glass ceiling over people’s heads, it’s placing a rock ceiling because when resource prices such as the gold price are bad or construction dips, people get re- trenched and then they are left with little to fall back on.
“We should be creating small businesses and not just jobs,” says Kubheka. “And when our President attends business sum- mits, I believe he should not be taking the bosses of big corporates with him, instead he should be taking people who run South Africa’s SMMEs.”
More accessible services for SMMEs
He adds that certain departments in gov- ernment “are doing some good things” such as the Department of Trade and In- dustry and the Jobs Fund, where business investment and grants can be accessed. “This is positive but I believe they could be far more accessible than they currently are. I would like to see them all located under one website portal or housed in a service centre where all their offerings are available and SMMEs can be directed to the best facility for their purpose.”
He believes the franchising business model should also be explored more extensively in South Africa because it is a tested and proven business model and one of the best ways of getting more businesses into the economy. “It’s what I call the ‘cupcake’ model,” he explains. “Instead of slicing up one big cake, such as the BEE model, my suggestion is that we bake multiple cup-cakes. This results in many small businesses being started, which in turn creates jobs.” Kubheka is currently creating a franchise of 300 mobile “Vuyo’s wors” businesses.
50 wors rolls a day
Earlier this year he signed an agreement with the Spar group whereby it will co- fund the cost of the mobile Vuyo’s wors carts, which are then set up outside Spar outlets. “We’ve worked it out that each vendor needs to sell 50 wors rolls a day to make a net income of R12 000 per month,” he says, adding: “That’s the kind of thing I needed to learn at Wits!”
His one criticism of the University is that “Wits Business School serves coffee in polystyrene cups,” he laughs. “That’s true but actually my one constructive criticism, or rather suggestion, is that Wits should offer structured entrepreneurial courses in every faculty so that all students get taught the basics of business management: accounting, HR, sales, marketing and op- erations.
“Whatever degree you do, you need these skills and the biggest disservice our higher education system does is not to recognise this.” Kubheka adds that without these skills it is difficult for anyone to transform dreams into “audacious reality”.
“We all need to dream big, and to have phenomenal dreams, but we can’t remain in a dream state. We need to wake up and start doing!”