Family goes legit and turns illegal shebeen into restaurant

Mother and son duo Lungiswa and James Bonda in front of their eatery Picture: Supplied

Mother and son duo Lungiswa and James Bonda in front of their eatery Picture: Supplied

Published Dec 4, 2022


Johannesburg - The Covid-19 lockdown saw many people without jobs as the economy took a hit, but it also saw a rise in entrepreneurs.

Meet Lungiswa Bonda, who resorted to selling alcohol without a liquor licence from her Khayelitsha home after losing her job.

Lungiswa had previously been employed as a private cook at a top Cape Town hotel.

Her son James had been agitating for the family to start its own business, having lost his job in the restaurant industry in 2019 as well, but Lungiswa was nervous about crime and resisted the idea at first.

Lungiswa’s concerns were legitimate, as the rowdy shebeen earned itself the nickname Lavay, a township take on the Afrikaans word for noise, “lawaai”.

“Selling alcohol is attractive to many people in the townships because that's where the money is,” said James.

“The allure of being able to make 50 or even 80% profit is very attractive, so people tend to want to sell alcohol instead of trying other businesses.”

There are about 50 000 unlicensed liquor outlets, mostly in townships and rural areas, according to industry-commissioned research.

As many as 80% of these shebeen owners survive from hand-to-mouth and show limited adherence to liquor regulations and responsible trading practices.

James said he wanted to start a business that would be celebrated.

“That's how my mom started, and the neighbours dubbed her shebeen Lavays, but her business was not very celebrated in the neighbourhood. This is what drive me to want to turn this place into a restaurant rather than a shebeen.”

Another reason James wanted out of the liquor trade was because of the close shaves they had experienced with law enforcement.

“It wasn't great because the police would arrive from time to time, and we would have to hide the alcohol and run away, so things like that did not sit well with me. It was just getting too difficult,” said James.

The Bondas were approached by Distell’s development partner Supply Pal with the idea of going legal.

The two entities have partnered and initiated a groundbreaking initiative which looks to convert unlicensed liquor outlets into new, sustainable businesses in support of township development.

“We decided to focus on the food side of things, and with the help from Distell and Supply Pal, we were able to get l pizza ovens. They re-did the flooring in the seating area,” said James.

The pizza oven installed at Lavay’s Picture: Supplied

Today, Lavay’s is a neighbourhood treasure, with a traditional pizza oven, deep fryers, deep freeze and a renovated interior, as well as a hand-held point-of-sale device that automatically tracks revenue and stock while allowing the Bonda’s to sell airtime and electricity and facilitate money transfers.

There’s also free wi-fi for patrons to use and Lavay’s is also now affiliated with another township innovation, Order Kasi, which does motorcycle orders and deliveries via a mobile phone app.

The neighbours around Lavay’s are much happier and even pitch in to help the Bondas whenever they can.

“The reception is good because the neighbours are watching, and I see when they comment on social media, they say, ‘hey, we are looking at what you are doing. You are doing good. We really appreciate what you are doing’. They are supportive. They even come help peel the potatoes we use to make chips,” he said.

Some of the meals served at Lavay’s Picture: Supplied

James dreams of growing Lavay’s and occupying a bigger space. Long-term, he hopes to be able to franchise the business as he often gets enquiries from all over the country, including places like Johannesburg, Sea Point and Camps Bay.

James reflects on the journey so far. “Lockdown didn’t break us. We started doing deliveries by car, and today, we even have ‘Lockdown’ and ‘House Arrest’ burgers on the menu!”

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