Johannesburg - Soon, the greatest story of triumph will be about how people in business survived the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Former Jomo Cosmos, Orlando Pirates and Supersport United midfielder Eugene Zwane has one such story to tell.
He mentions “sitting at home” a few times during the conversation and it is clear he is not one to sit idle twiddling his thumbs. When his ventures in entertainment and catering were set back by the hard lockdown he thought of something to do, unlike “to sit at home doing nothing”.
So, from a disused butchery that was closed for 13 years in Orlando West, Soweto, the former ace footie started selling parcels of meat. Two years into it, the accidental business is doing a roaring trade and the stars are aligning. Zwane Meat Company has grown into a trendy and popular shisanyama outlet with plans to flesh it out into a full restaurant and lifestyle rendezvous point.
A very affable fellow, it may well be that Zwane’s name is a magnet that continues to draw in customers. On Thursday, when we dropped by for the interview, two men from the nearby Dube hostel come in for a lunch meal and the more talkative of the two was pleasantly surprised to find that “the Zwane that is being spoken about is someone I know”.
No doubt a knowledgeable soccer fan, he then tells his host how he knows him, telling his story from Pirates to later when he moved to Pretoria City before it became Supersport United. He even threw in some of Zwane’s teammates at the clubs, including some old names like goalkeeper Ivor Simunic.
Zwane was chuffed. He most recently featured on television as a football analyst.
“This was a forced investment,” he says of how he got to be in the meat trade. “It was in September 2020. The lockdown had just been proclaimed. I learnt a lot in the last two years because I came into this business with very little knowledge of hospitality.”
“I’ve paid my school fees,” he says in the language of football, which, to the uninitiated, means he’s paid his dues. Now he speaks the language of A-Grade meat and prime steak and he chuckles.
“There’s a variety of people that I serve. My regular clients are my friends, who come mostly in the evening or weekends. It is not a business I was aspiring to do. If you asked me what I would be doing after the lockdown, I wouldn’t have said this. Opportunities usually come wrapped up as challenges,” Zwane says, adding he won’t give up the furniture business.
“I’ve had people coming in because of the name,” he admits.
He makes the place available to host evenings. Just the other day he hosted a function to celebrate the academic success of former teammate at Pirates, Bernard “Shoes” Lushozi, who had just acquired a PhD. “For anyone to get a PhD is big; for a soccer player it’s even more of an achievement. The purpose of the event was also to serve as an inspiration to young soccer players.”
The business of a butcher/restaurateur puts him at the coalface, but it is something he is not averse to as he dealt face-to-face with customers while still in the corporate sector, where he was in sales and marketing at the SABC. “It is a gradual learning process.”
“The concept we’re developing here is a lifestyle butchery. We don’t just sell meat in the traditional sense. Buy meat and eat at home. We do it here for them. We also bring in music. There are limitations because of space, but the concept remains. The place accommodates, at a stretch, about 200 people.”
“It is not true that investing in the townships means you’re not playing in the big leagues. The big supermarket chains are gunning for this market.”
It is a great idea as people are now asking questions about what they can do to open a similar venture. He thinks that’s conversation leading towards franchising. “It is not a heavy investment. It does not require hefty amounts,” Zwane says, even as he is giving the place a facelift.
He is learning that in retail it is wise to own the property where you trade.
Zwane says in the two years, he has put systems in place for the business to run without him being present all the time.
Ever the soccer player, he keeps fit with regular exercise and manages the Pirates legends’ squad.