1. Can you please tell us more about your business?
A. Mama Bongi makes the BEST choc chip cookies you can get, which are distributed through some volunteers in Sea Point or the City or collected from our offices in Wynberg. Mama is also selling at markets, starting at The Range Sunday market this weekend. The Coffee Bloc at Buitenverwachting is also stocking Mama’s cookies. Mama Bongi is a natural teacher and a fantastic cook, so she is available to come and teach your housekeeper to cook in your own home.
2. When, how and why did you start your business?
A. Mama started making cookies for the company she works for, Amazing Spaces, to give to their clients. The clients loved the cookies so much and asked if they could buy more. The idea was borne to start the brand “Mama Bongi’s Cookies” and to start selling them. This started within the last year and has taken off, with Buitenverwachting stocking them, The Range Market asking her to have a stand at their market, and Standard Bank choosing her cookies for their Women’s Day event. Julia, Mama’s employer, believes in empowering her staff and encouraged Mama to take her cookies to the next level by selling them and creating the Mama Bongi brand for her.
3. What is your role in the business?
A. Mama’s role is to bake the cookies, to be the face of the brand, and to teach at her cooking lessons.
4. Where did you study and what did you study?
A. Mama did her O-levels in Zimbabwe but has not had an opportunity to study beyond school. She was forced to come to South Africa to find work as a clearer so that she could support her children.
5. How did you finance your business?
A. Mama’s employer Julia has assisted Mama with the financing of her business.
6. Describe your average workday, if such a thing exists.
A. Mama comes into the office at 8 am and is responsible for the cleaning of the office, which is a co-working space in Wynberg Chelsea and then makes tea and coffee for all the ‘workers’ in the office. Mama then pops off to the Constantia Pick n Pay to do the shopping for the week. She then has to make lunch for 6 of the staff, who she cooks lunch for every day. That afternoon she might go off to do a cooking lesson. In between all this, she has to fit in cooking batches of cookies (sometimes as many as 475 cookies in a couple of days for events such as the Standard Bank event). Mama is not averse to getting up at 6 am to start baking if she has a big order of cookies to fulfill.
7. How do you balance your home life and your work life?
A. Sadly Mama has left her kids at home but makes time for her extended family over weekends. She is also known to babysit in the evenings!
8. What drives you and inspires you?
A. “The need to better the life of my children who are back in Zimbabwe, as well as finish building my house is a big driver for me”. Mama has always wanted to be a teacher, so the realization that she is now teaching other ladies to cook is a huge driver as she feels fulfilled and happy when she is doing this. “When people compliment me on my cooking or when they say how delicious my cookies are, it warms my heart. I have always loved cooking”.
9. Where and when do you have your best ideas?
A. “I rely a lot on Julia for all the ideas around how to grow my business, which I never ever believed I would have or be able to do. But, I have found that in my small way I have contributed, like when I suggested we advertise on Facebook about Father’s Day and my cookies, and we ended up selling about 175 bags. My mind has opened up to greater opportunities by seeing what is possible through my small business. I get ideas about cooking and what to try next when I am watching the cooking channels in the evenings”.
10. Where and how do you market/advertise your business for sales leads?
A. We market through Facebook groups and community groups, where the support has been amazing. I have my own Facebook page which is growing all the time. I have my own website, which we try and push for customers to go on there where they can book cooking lessons or order cookies.
11. What is next for your business?
A. I want to grow the business by supplying some local coffee shops with cookies and attending markets. I hope to be able to employ someone to help me in the near future. Also, I need to set up some kind of distribution network for my cookies. I’ve secured the rental of a larger kitchen from the 1st December which will allow me to bake more cookies. I also hope to grow the cooking school side of the business by having housekeepers come to my new kitchen and I teach them there rather than going to their homes. This way I can teach 3-4 women at a time and earn more.
12. What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business?
A. I would advise people to ask for help and to be prepared to work hard. Don’t expect hand-outs, if people see that you are willing to work, they are willing to help. I have an amazing bunch of women around me who have helped me every step of the way. My Facebook page, website, and exposure have all been because these amazing women around me want to see me succeed. They all believe in if you make a difference in one person’s life, you help change a nation. Through this experience, and at my age (48 yrs) I never believed that this was possible for me in my life. Never give up, and keep dreaming. Be gracious, and be grateful and the help from others just keeps flowing.