Queen of local cuisine

Tuesday, 03 March 2015 16:55   |   Written by
Queen of local cuisine

The idea of sitting on a beer crate is common in a township shebeen and not in an upmarket restaurant that shares a roof with one of the plushest hotels in the country. This is just one of the several element that sets Sgotti restaurant apart among uptown eating and drinking outlets in Masa Centre in the Gaborone Central Business District (CBD).

But that was the whole idea. To set up a township, traditional eatery in an up market that could attract locals and international patrons alike. The brainchild of Matenge, Sgotti restaurant would be what Mzoli’s eatery is to the Cape Town tourists; that famous eating spot where you must step in when visiting the city. The name Sgotti is a streetwise slang name referring to a drinking spot. But contrary to the name, this is a restaurant that offers Setswana cuisine consisting of mokwetjepe, bogobe ja lerotse, serobe, seswaa and gemere. Though the chief chef has no culinary educational background, she excels on home recipes.

With close to P500 000 of savings and personal loans, Matenge who is passionate about her hospitality business managed to set up Sgotti in the city’s CBD where most businesses and eateries are owned by foreigners or franchised from other countries.
“In the first few months of operation, I would stand at the door and look at patrons flocking to neighghoring restaurants and that shook me a bit,” says Matenge who has earned the nickname ‘Mma-Sgotti’ from loyal patrons. However, the brand has grown phenomenally thanks to the power of word of mouth. “I developed a connection with a few customers that frequented Sgotti. I started sending them menus via SMS and they got hooked and brought more people along with them,” she says, noting that the business did not have any mainstream media-advertising budget because they were still finding their feet.

The 35-year-old mother of two had to dip deep into her pockets for the business to get off the ground.  Matenge says for her ‘hospitality is a calling.’ Her first job was an informal intern at the Grand Palm hotel where her main duty was making up beds; and emphasises, “a hotel bed has to be perfectly made! I used to get annoyed walking into restaurants and seeing waiters treating people like they are doing them a favour. When I began my own restaurant operation, I wanted to get rid of that attitude, to make the customers feel valued and wanted,” she notes.

Sgotti’s influence from township settings of eateries is evident. The afropop music and the use of metal cups give it that homely feeling. The eatery has grown and Matenge envisions expansion. “I don’t know if I should make it a franchise or just open other branches around the country and regionally but expansion is inevitable,” she shares her dream.

Having started to operate just last year, Matenge has observed that locals have not yet embraced the culture of going out for to eat, especially in winter.  Matenge says business move faster in summer, people like to be out in summer. Like any other businessperson and entrepreneur, Matenge has had her share of challenges. One of the major ones is that people still find it difficult to pay well for local food. “Some people often question why they should come to a restaurant and pay much for a plate of bogobe ja lerotse when they can have it at home forgetting that in reality, in the fast city life people do not have time to prepare such at home. Some families are now accustomed to fast foods.

Besides if you are willing to pay for an Italian or Chinese cuisine without complaint, why can’t the same happen with local cuisine?” she quizzes.  Prior to general elections the restaurant ran a promotion where patrons got a discount on their bill if they presented their election registration card.  What drives her business is her passion for the hospitality industry.