Thandi Dlamini marketing produce as nature intended.
Thandi Dlamini marketing produce as nature intended.
Dragon fruit – unusual fruity treat
Dragon fruit – unusual fruity treat
Thandi Dlamini with her trusted colleague, Phiwe Mathebula, from Jozini.
Thandi Dlamini with her trusted colleague, Phiwe Mathebula, from Jozini.
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You can’t be a sissy if you want to go the do-it-yourself route, says Thandi Dlamini, a multi talented KZN businesswoman, who on her own admission has weathered "quite a few storms" along the way.

“You are taking a gamble that’s the first thing you have to realise. You have to believe in yourself – not even have one self doubt – that’s the second thing. And most important you have to trust the people who are going to help you get your business off the ground.”

This week we met her at the Vegan market at Durban North where her display of colourful and different fruits, veg, and salady things make a vibrant picture postcard splash. 

"I love cooking and I love fresh ingredients that haven't been near a pesticide,” she says. “My marketing message is to supply the sort of fresh ingredients I like to use. That’s what makes me happy."

Her career journey, she tells you, hasn't always been that easy going.

"Oh gosh. I have had my bumps, plenty of them. You learn along the way that you need to be a quick learner, so you don't keep on making the same mistakes. It's easy to make mistakes. It's getting up and starting over that is the big challenge"

To understand the twists and turns of her working life, you need to wind back about 10 years ago to when she managed an Italian Restaurant, Ciao Italia in Westville.
"It was a brilliant life, hard work but glamorous," she says smiling at those memories. "I met so many wonderful people and the support was great. You had to book a long time in advance to get a table."

The day when she was able to buy the restaurant from the previous owners, she says, was the proudest of her life. 

"I knew about food, and how to please my clients with the dishes they loved. Italian pastas , fresh fish, seafood, aged steaks, over the years I had plenty of experience. I mean what really could go wrong?

As she learnt - quite a lot.  She admits that not having any proper business know how or expert knowledge on how partnerships really worked was a major drawback.

"I thought that the administration side would be quite simple. But it wasn't. I just didn't know enough about business. It's as simple as that. In the end I decided to get out of the restaurant market and reinvent myself. I was really bitter about it and blamed all sorts of people, but in the end I had to be honest with myself and accept that I just did not have the financial education that was required.” 

The reinvention meant going back to her roots and young life, first on a farm in Stanger and later in Kwa Mashu, where she grew up.

"My family knew how to grow fruit and vegetables, enough for everyone, even the neighbours. They knew how to mulch not using pesticides. They knew what to plant to keep the insects and bugs away. They knew when to plant and when to harvest. From a small child I knew all this too. I think it was almost imprinted in my genes."

It was a natural progression, she says, that organically grown foods were to become her passion and the foundation for her fresh produce business venture, Thandi’s Fresh Produce, which she started in 2017.

"The nice bit for me is that I have the time to discover new farmers who are growing their stuff organically. In the Marrianhill area, for example, there are whole areas devoted to fresh produce, not just the basics, but things like peppers, baby aubergines, dragon fruit and mangoes. Tastes really are changing and the demand for naturally grown produce is huge."

Thinking a little bit differently, she says, has always been part of her business strategy.

"My new idea is to make vegetable packs to order. Most cooks have their favourite fresh produce ingredients they use on a regular basis. It could be shitake mushrooms, or baby marrows, courgettes or on-the-vine tomatoes. If they were easily available, it would take the headache out of making those special dishes.

But she also knows that business plans take time.

"It takes a 1000 days to establish a business and make it profitable. Ask me I can prove how true that is."

And just in passing what is dragon fruit?

“Looks like a dragon on the outside” Thandi explains. “Cut it open and you’ll be surprised. Delicious mixture of a pear and a strawberry.”