Women who break glass ceilings are not an anomaly. But there are some who manage to do so in a very male dominated industry, that you can't help but admire. Dineo Tshabalala, is one of those women. In pursuing her dream to own her own business Tshabalala, 42, started One and Only Lounge, a shisanyama establishment in the heart of Kwa-Mashu, the township north of Durban. It's a gamble that has paid off well, as One and Only Lounge has become one of the most popular shisanyama joints in Durban.
Shisanyama is a male dominated industry, where competition to be regarded as the best in the city, is very tough. And yet Tshabalala is ranked amongst the best in the city. One and Only Lounge has been named in the top five of the annual Shisanyama Awards for the second consecutive year. It's clear that she has made her mark in the industry.
Born in Johannesburg, Tshabalala fell in-love with cooking when she was eleven-years-old. He mother, Popo Tshabalala, used to run their family’s Chicken Licken outlets and butchery. It was where she got her food business grounding from.
“When I came down to Durban in 2008, I was looking for any kind of job as long as I will be working and getting money. I met and worked with Mdu Ngcobo from Touch Africa Records, who is the one who taught me the business of entertainment and growing up I used to help run the food outlets and the butchery at home.
"I would make and sell sandwiches during the day and during lunch time prepare a fully cooked meal and do deliveries to people until one day a friend of mine said I should consider opening my own kitchen."
With the skills learnt from seeing her mother run the butchery and a desire to be more successful, she set into motion her plans of opening up what is now known as One and Only Lounge.
"The business made a really good start- the growth was amazing. We had some difficulties last year, because we closed for quite some time. But it has picked up again this year which is something that made me really happy”, she said.
Tshabalala said her male peers in the shisanyama industry have welcomed her. Being a woman in the business hasn't been a problem, but has instead elicited respect from them.
“My male counterparts have never even on any day looked down upon me. I even have a male business partner Mfundo Thango who co-owns the lounge and everyone has been very supportive towards my business. They are protective and are always there when I need advice. Whenever I visit their places I know I have came to my brothers place as they make sure I get everything I need in the best way possible. They treat me with great respect."
She has tips for women who work in or are interested in sectors seen as too male dominated.
"Never let anyone bring you down. They always say everything is male dominated and women come after men, but it’s not like that anymore. We can do it ourselves. Women shouldn’t be afraid to take risks- they should go for anything they wish to go for as they also have the power within themselves," she said.
With a venue specializing in shisanyama and having scooped second place at last years Shisanyama Awards, Tshabalala said the secret to a successful business is looking after your customers all the time.
“Most of the customers have been here since day one, so we have to take care of them the best way possible. We treat them like family because in a way, they are part of the business as they contribute to its growth," she said.
Her favourite food? "A plate of samp and beans with lamb tripe or phuthu with boiled meat and downed with traditional sorghum beer."
She looks up to her mother and just basically every South African woman who is out there doing it for themselves when it comes to owning any kind of business.