Tlhompho Mokoena Is Truly Winging It
Joburgers have grown to love The Wing Republic (TWR), one of Braamfontein’s premium chill spots. Established by Tlhompho Mokoena as a pop-up restaurant in 2014, the booming business became fully operational in a brick and mortar location in November 2017.
I met with him on an early week-morning at the restaurant to find out about his entrepreneurial journey so far. “It took us about three years to move from a predominantly pop-up store to a fully-fledged operational restaurant. Everything was just trial and error. However, when you do events and markets it allows you to test a lot of other things,” says Tlhompho.
Reaffirming his stellar journey as a restaurateur, the businessman was recently featured on Standard Bank’s My Fearless Next TV show, as a branding mentor. The campaign was launched to help South Africa’s budding entrepreneurs turn their side hustles into their main hustles. Speaking about his time on the show, Tlhompho says “It was pretty cool but, more than anything else, it was a step in the right direction in that I am doing something great. You know, so that people can acknowledge the journey that I have taken from when I started to them now entrusting me with their brand by mentoring other entrepreneurs”.
The controversial incident in which racist ranter, Adam Catzavelos loosely threw around the K-word came as a blessing in disguise for TWR. However, as more people started to flock into the restaurant, it required them to make massive changes in order to keep up with the new demand. Their staff complement has increased to seven waiters, from the original three. The alley on the side of the building has also been opened up to extend the restaurant’s seating. The operating time has also been extended by two hours.
“I think more than anything, many people were not aware of the existence of the restaurant, you know. Prior to that, we didn’t have as many people coming through. Social media has been our main marketing tool because of its easy access. It’s also cheap in comparison to other mediums. In addition to that, we do radio interviews but with social media, I can control whatever we put out at any time as opposed to radio interviews because people call you when it suits them.” This, according to Tlhompho is how he has managed to sustain the overwhelming new interest in his restaurant beyond the media frenzy.
Some of their loyal stans gave the restaurant their stamp of approval when they voted TWR as the restaurant with the, “Best Chicken Wings” in Gauteng on Jacaranda FM. That accolade is splashed right across the bottom of their menu. Something which Tlhompho says came as a pleasantly welcome surprise. “Jacaranda FM runs a feature on one of their platforms which [asks], ‘who has the best burgers or who has the best kotas in Joburg?’ In this case it was the listeners who were saying that we were the best chicken wings spot in Joburg. I only found out afterwards when I was contacted by them. So it is just a good marketing gimmick to add because funny enough, a lot of the audience that comes here are [probably] not Jacaranda FM listeners,” he says.
Braamfontein, as a very student dominant area has also pushed TWR to be more inclusive in terms of their pricing system. Currently, they run various specials on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the average meal on their menu goes for as little as R60. This is how Tlhompho has tried to accommodate that part of the market. Commenting on the business’ next step, he mentions that he would like to venture into franchising. Although he is yet to identify the exact location, he would like to keep the brand Gauteng-bound for now.
“We acknowledge that this is only our first store so there’s a lot of learning. We don’t want to get someone to invest their money in the business only to end up not seeing the returns. So we first have to try and run two or three stores and see how it works out, and then you can start adding on other people.”
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Images By: Morena Letsoara