'Suppliers owed over R150000'

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

Radio personality Bob Mabena has come out in defence of his involvement with Capello's restaurant in Newtown, Johannesburg.

The troubled eatery closed recently.

Mabena, who is a top SABC executive, was the face of the collapsed franchised restaurant, apparently jointly owned by himself, celebrity Sundowns goalkeeper Brian Baloyi, and Ronald Mabena, Bob Mabena's uncle.

It was said the restaurant closed because the owners could not afford to pay the rent.

In a letter to Sowetan, Mabena explained that he was not at first a joint owner. He said BobRon M Leisure, a close corporation, which was "wholly owned" by Ronald Mabena, had been set up to operate the Newtown restaurant.

"I only came in to help," Mabena said this week. "That's where my involvement started."

Mabena insisted that he was not a registered owner of the business. But there were times when he paid staff salaries out of his own pocket and even waited on tables.

"Ronald Mabena sought a set-up loan from his bank, but he did not qualify for the full R1,2million needed by the franchise owner, Soft Coffee.

"Brian Baloyi came in at that point to as a second shareholder.

"At Ronald's perseverance, I came in as the final and minority shareholder," Mabena said.

But he said that a shareholders's agreement was never actually concluded as Brian and Ronald could never coordinate their timing to sign the papers.

He said in the end the papers were never signed, which meant that technically the sole owner was Ronald.

He said from the outset, the restaurant faced challenges. He said these included:

l A franchise owner who did very little to help after the first day.

l "The most ill-trained staff I have ever seen," trained by the franchise owner;

l Inadequate funding from Ronald Mabena's bank. "From the first day the business had to fund itself with a measly R50000 overdraft."

l Ninety-nine percent white suppliers, many of whom did not want to come to Newtown at all.

l A burglary four months after the opening.

The franchise owner was quick to respond to these allegations:

"It is funny that Mabena claims our staff are not properly trained when we have staff working at 14 of our restaurants throughout the country.

"This is the first time we have received such a complaint," said Nico Picone, co-owner of Soft Coffee, Capello's franchise owner.

Picone also responded to the allegations that many of the suppliers were reluctant to come to Newtown.

"The bit about suppliers is also strange because we have a restaurant in Soweto and three other restaurants in the city centre, and suppliers are all happy to go there.

"The fact of the matter is that suppliers were owed between R150000 and R200 000," he said.

Efforts to contact Ronald Mabena drew a blank yesterday.

The Newtown Capello's Restaurant is scheduled to be opened again shortly at the same rental, under new ownership and management.

Despite the problems, Bob Mabena's last words were: "Capello's Newtown was a success story for the Newtown Precinct and no one can deny that - I had a lot of fun and I'd do it again."