Keneilwe Modisane's recipe for success

Keneilwe Modisane has built her businesses from humble beginnings
Keneilwe Modisane has built her businesses from humble beginnings

She's the owner of a high-end restaurant called Pause Cafe, which opened three years ago in the Pretoria CBD, and has another lower-end eatery, popularly known as Sizzling Grill, two blocks away.

Meet Keneilwe Modisane, the owner of Sizzling Catering and Events Management, a hospitality and catering business established after she quit her job in 2007 as manager at a famous shoe retail store.

Modisane, 35, said her interest in food and cooking was fuelled by mimicking what her mom did in the kitchen.

"Over weekends, I would spend most of my time watching and learning from my mother. She taught me how to prepare some of her favourite recipes," Modisane said.

"Even when she was not around, I would come up with my own recipes. I remember one time I did a mayonnaise smoothie, I've always been innovative when cooking."

After working as a sales consultant, then a manager in the retail sector, she began catering on a part-time basis at small events in Rustenburg, her hometown.

"I got a lot of bookings, that's when I decided to enrol for a chef certificate with Tshwane College from 2007 to 2009. I rented a flat in Pretoria in 2008 and turned the kitchen into my cooking space. I started small.

"I saved the little money I got from the small bookings. As we speak, I have created jobs for 10 people."

Modisane said she serves at gala dinners, private functions, year-end parties, sports events, weddings, birthday parties and funerals. A recent big event she catered for was the Tshwane Open golf tournament, where she provided three-course meals for seven days.

Hospitality entrepreneur Keneilwe Modisane, middle, is the founder of Sizzling Catering and Events Management. Next to her is her husband Tshepo Modisane, left, and some of her employees.
Hospitality entrepreneur Keneilwe Modisane, middle, is the founder of Sizzling Catering and Events Management. Next to her is her husband Tshepo Modisane, left, and some of her employees.

Two weeks ago she was the caterer at Gauteng Premier David Makhura's Women Excellence Awards gala dinner at the State Theatre, which was attended by 7000 guests.

She also does food parcels for school sporting events for 500 to 1000 pupils.

"Some of the white people who catered at the golf event before me [would ask] 'are you sure you are going to make it'?

"As the first black woman to be given the business, they thought I would fail. They do their business using huge trucks and mobile kitchens and were shocked when they saw my small mobile kitchen."

Modisane's first big sporting event was the Fifa Confederations Cup in 2009. She was stationed at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.

"My business operates in three provinces - Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga.

"The hospitality industry is very diverse and planning is key. At the moment some of the equipment I need, especially things like marquees, furniture and cookware I outsource."

At Pause Cafe, situated a stone's throw from the Gauteng North High Court, Modisane has hosted clients such as Advocate Barry Roux during the Oscar Pistorius trial.

"Judges, advocates, magistrates and people attending court come for a cup of coffee in the morning, a sit-in buffet or to grab a snack while rushing to court at lunch time.

"Sizzling Grill caters more for clientele that is intimidated by the ambience and prices at Pause Cafe. I established it to serve people who love their pap and vleis orAfrican cuisine, like mala-mogodu, but other specialities are braaied meat, stews and veggies.

"I can say I'm making money, I'm comfortable.

"With my biggest client being the government, I would however urge them to speed up payments so that small businesses can thrive."

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