Self Taught Chef Mumu Magongo on Serving Swati & West African Delicacies

By Tikoleftu ‘La Don’ Mahlalela    

Tucked away in the deep recesses of the old Liqhaga House building in central Manzini, in the rear of the refurnished and pepped-up ground floor, lies a fledgling beauty of a place, Olive Café.

While in recent years the culinary business climate in Manzini has seen a marked growth in buccaneering competition and promising returns, led on by the posh multi-eatery and ever-bustling Lifestyle Centre and friends uptown, Olive Café has since joined the fray as of the past winter.

Though by reason of friendly pricing and the proven fact that its traditional-fare Sunday specials (mostly Swati and West African specialities) and rare marine delicacies, among much else, are always cooked to relative perfection and second to none, in this respect the 8-months-old spot has begged to differ and stand-alone from the rest.

We sat down with the proprietor of the Olive Café to find out more about what makes her and the business tick.

Q: Hi Mumu, thank you for chatting with us. Can you briefly tell us about yourself, and how the concept of Olive Café came about?

A: My name is Samukelisiwe Mumuza Magongo. I’m from Manzini, where I’m also currently based.  I am a self-taught chef, and a lover of food who is very passionate about serving healthy and delicious food. The concept of opening Olive Cafe came about because I wanted my family and friends and, eventually, customers to enjoy hearty and healthy meals away from home at affordable prices.

While the city obviously has a number of restaurants that people can patron, we wanted to create a menu, setting and vibe that people can be so drawn to and comfortable in, that it becomes their natural home away from home.

A: The restaurant industry is often said to be a very competitive and challenging space. What are some of your unique selling points that ensure you are different from your competitors and keep you relevant and profitable?

Q: Our unique selling points is that we serve healthand fresh food at affordable prices. We have also carved a niche in the inner city in that we also serve traditional food on weekends, like inhloko (cow head), tripe and trotters. We use as much fresh products as we can to ensure that our meals are tasty and healthy. We are all about healthy good cuisine. At the same time, we do our best to support local farmers, as we believe in the power of community and raising each other up as much as we can.

Q: What have been some of your biggest challenges to date and how have you overcome them?

A: The biggest challenge we are facing is that we are still reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. A lot of people are still shying away from public places, on a consistent basis, as was the case before the pandemic hit.  The ailing economy has also played a huge role in customer numbers not being as high as some people cannot afford going out to dine in restaurants in the present economic climate. But what we have done is create a beautiful environment for our patrons.

So this is now a home away from home, if you like. The food, vibe, and ambience come together to create that. In addition, for the most part, we have kept the same core of loyal customers from and around the pandemic era through constant communication with them and setting up contingencies such as a food delivery service.

In the same vein, that has now garnered us more clientele through word of mouth from clients who have received good food and service. We have faced challenges head-on and used them as catalysts to build loyalty and grow the business.

Q: What’s the best part about running such a business?

A: The best part is witnessing loyal customer support. We keep our promise to serve the best meals which our customers enjoy at pocket-friendly prices. I also love seeing personal satisfaction on our customer’s faces,that keeps me going. As a self-certified foodie, I just love to see people enjoy good food.

Q: How are you marketing your business?

A: The internet has provided opportunities to find customers without breaking the bank, so we have created a social media pages the Facebook and Instagram platforms. We use these to keep our customers updated on our latest specials,and anything that has to do with Olive Cafe. We have also used our social media following and customer service experience to capitalize on word of mouth, like I highlighted earlier. I think this is the most powerful marketing tool.   

So, there you have it from the horse’s mouth. This is a quaint affair by style, and very much in the tendency to attract an older crowd, by accurate description the place is a quiet three-fold space spanning a little big-screen bar, an ample work-in-progress lounge shut off by frosted glass from a fully furnished little smoking area that, through the even holes of artful wooden railing, affords a good glimpse to the inside and greets approaching patrons from the back of a long winding corridor of shined tiling. Nicknamed ‘Noah’s Ark’ by its daily patrons, an interesting analogy and tongue-in-cheek naming that has rubbed off onto many, the pleasantly dim-lit  and airy smoking area currently serves as the only eating area in which, like the proverbial animals boarding Noah’s Ark, most have been caught filing in (in twos) for a treat.

Olive Cafe is located at Liqhaga House, Ground floor –  Nkoseluhlaza Street in Manzini

Contact details are: 76087527 or 76159290

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