Maboneng king: From waiter to restaurant owner

From Rabokala to Maboneng, that's the story of Ravioli owner Mpho Masilo./Mduduzi Ndzingi
From Rabokala to Maboneng, that's the story of Ravioli owner Mpho Masilo./Mduduzi Ndzingi

Mpho Masilo worked as a bartender and waiter for nearly a decade before launching
Ravioli, the biggest fine-dining space in Maboneng, Johannesburg, last week.

The 35-year-old restaurateur from Rabokala village in the North West had to stop pursuing his law degree with Unisa because of a lack of funds but did not allow that to diminish his drive for success.

"I am glad that law didn't work out for me because I wouldn't be where I am now," he said.

Masilo, who is the son of a factory worker, can now be dubbed the King of Maboneng as he owns two hot spots in the trendy area, employing more than 150 people.

Many are unaware that the shy father of two is also the founder and sole owner of the popular Shakers Bar, which opened in 2016 in the area where young Joburgers mingle every weekend.

"A lot of people underestimate the power of waiters. As a waiter you serve a lot of different people and you learn from them.

"I learned a lot of skills as a waiter that have helped me to become successful in this business.

"You become good at understanding people's moods and feelings, which helps you to understand customer service."

Before his breakthrough, he had tried to open several businesses between 2003 and 2007, such as a car wash and an ice and catering business, but he failed because of inexperience.

"I was inexperienced and taken advantage of by people who should have rather mentored me," Masilo said.

He was eventually successful at establishing a cocktail bar at a restaurant, where he was able to make his monthly salary in one day.

He saved most of his money so that he could open his own mobile cocktail bar in 2012, which became a popular feature at markets in Joburg.

He continued to save and used the money fund to Shakers Bar and this eventually allowed him to raise enough capital to open Ravioli.

The restaurateur hired 67 inexperienced people for Ravioli and spent more than eight months training them to understand the art of Italian food and cocktail mixing.

"It was a challenge to ensure that people are passionate about their work. I wanted the cooks to be passionate enough to add their own flair to the food."

The dishes at the establishment are made from scratch to ensure that the quality of the food is of a high calibre.

Masilo said he tasted the dishes frequently to ensure that excellent standards were maintained.

"I understand Italian recipes because of my mentor. He was the owner of a restaurant I worked at in Cape Town. He disclosed a lot of things that made me understand the business."

He said though he loves Italian food, it was important to add some South African flair.

"I didn't want to take away from the fact that this is South Africa, where we love our meat."

Masilo said now that he had opened his dream restaurant, he was planning on opening a second Shakers Bar, called Shakers Extreme. This one would be on a more premium level, he said.