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Zola Nene | South Africa | Invest In Yourself!

I only realized my passion for food in my second year of BComm Law studies, I’m what you’d call a “late bloomer”. After finishing high school, I seriously hadn’t ever considered a career in food, but after not enjoying my chosen study path and realized that I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life, my dad asked me a simple question – what is it that I do when I’m at my happiest. My answer was, “I love to cook”, and that’s where it all started for me and I officially began exploring the world of culinary arts. I recall being the oldest in my chef school classes, and feeling awkward at that realization, but that didn’t stop me, I had my eye on the prize, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?

How did the idea for your business come about?

My business came about from a need for me to grow my brand and work for myself, I started my company Zola Nene Chef (Pty) Ltd when I decided that I wanted to be an independent brand that offered recipe development, styling and food content creation. I then expanded on my brand offering during the first stages of lockdown by releasing my branded apron and my spice range. I noticed that people were cooking so much more and frequently asking me how to add flavour to their everyday meals, so I created my spice mix and curry powder as a solution for that need.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

The biggest hurdle is always getting started; somehow, we as human beings always talk ourselves out of doing things for ourselves. So once I started, of course I was like, dammit, why didn’t I do this sooner. It’s always a good idea to invest in yourself and your own progress and I wish more people took that leap of faith in themselves sooner.

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

To be honest, I mostly read cookbooks. I enjoy cookbooks (like mine) that tell a bit of a story about the author and their journey and that give an insight into their career progression. My current favourite is Dorah Sithole’s latest cookbook where she chronicles her journey within the food industry - she’s always been such a pioneer in the food industry and her book is beautifully put together.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

I’m very blessed to have the most supportive family and friends, even my craziest ideas are never too crazy to them, and for that I am so grateful. I’m surrounded by a tribe that truly believes in my talents and support me fully. Truthfully, in the life of an entrepreneur, there should be no room for naysayers in your inner circle, get rid of negative energy from your core team, it doesn’t serve you well.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

Authenticity and my consistency have definitely been my biggest and most influential factors, I’ve always been true to who I am and my narrative. I think the fact that I am unapologetically myself in all instances has built a trust in the people who have followed my career from the start.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

You don’t need to know and do everything yourself, get help from experts. At first, I was so set on doing everything myself and running every part of my business myself, now that I’m older and wiser, I know better (thank goodness), I have a great team of people (managers, lawyers, accountants) who handle the parts of business that aren’t my strength, which gives me the room to focus on what I do best – creating.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Invest in yourself, whether that be with knowledge or financially, put in the time to help yourself grow - you’re worth the investment.

Images Shot By: Lisa Skinner


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