If you find yourself travelling within the Mpumalanga Province, be sure to stop in at Suzzy’s Kitchen, an African-themed restaurant in Phalaborwa, owned and run by the wonderful Suzzy Mhangwana.
The business backstory
In recalling her journey of how she set up her own local business, Suzzy, a proud mother of five, describes how she used to work for Edgar’s until she was retrenched – an unfortunate experience than many South Africans have been through recently.
“I had to come out with a plan to make a living, so I decided to cook food, setting myself up as a street vendor at the Magistrate Offices and eventually establishing a refreshment station along the road close to the Kruger National Park. Since I specialised in African food, many tourists would stop by during cultural tours,” she explains.
“My business went from strength to strength thanks to international guests and I was eventually contacted by numerous rest camps like African Ivory and Letaba, and Air BnBs in the area asking that I help assist them in catering for their guests.”
As for what makes her business offering so special, Suzzy’s maintains that eating at her kitchen is about connection. “People from other countries can come and experience a new culture and try food that they are not used to like cow heels, mogodi (tripe) and mopane worms, to name a few.”
Suzzy provides employment for a number of men and women living in the surrounding area but since the lockdown and subsequent travel restrictions, she admits that she has had to reduce her staff to just four. “I currently employ only three women and one man. One of the women I employ is my sister, who works as a chef. My business was hit hard during the restrictions because we stopped getting tourists,” she adds.
As much as the national lockdown affected Suzzy and her family, she admits that “It’s difficult and I’m tired, but as a woman, you must come up with a new plan. At the beginning of the lockdown, I had to do what I could to maintain an income, and instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, I started walking into the township to buy fruit and vegetables to then sell.”
On the importance of tourism, she emphasises that it brings in money to the economy but it’s also vital to her local community and her close friends who, because of it, have been able to put bread on the table.
“Tourism has helped me grow and learn and in turn, my children have also learnt so much from me and are now following similar paths. I also love that I have been able to showcase traditional African food to the tourists that visit and the local women who dance for our guests can also receive an income,” she says.
As for her hopes for the future, Suzzy admits that she would love to provide employment not just for women, but for many young men that make up her community who are struggling to find work. And, as for her advice for other women in tourism right now, she says: “Remember, perseverance is the way to success!” When you think of doing something, do it! Don’t throw in the towel.”