Mthabisi Tshuma, Leisure Correspondent
HIS lively personality impresses many and rings true to his humble beginnings which show that every big castle starts with a single block.
This is the story of Kadoma born and Bulawayo bred, tourism and hospitality player Benson Muneri.
At 42, he has shown that a little step taken every day builds up the hope of greater life which begins when you start something and blooms when you keep doing it.
This is a story of how three fast food restaurants in the country under the banner Barcelos have given birth to 16 Hotplate Grillhouse branches.
The restaurants are a testimony to how the power is in the roots, not the branches.
It rings bells to the adage that success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.
Born in the mining town of Kadoma to a father who worked for the Cold Storage Commission (CSC) (now Cold Storage Company) and a mother who relied on selling cultural artifacts to put food on the table, Muneri did not have it easy.
Saturday Leisure caught up with Muneri at the new US$200 000 Hotplate Grillhouse branch in Harare, which he has since donated to First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa’s Angel of Hope Foundation in order to assist the vulnerable.
“I was born in Kadoma and raised in Nketa 7 in Bulawayo. I went to school at Rimuka High School in Kadoma and relocated to Bulawayo around 1992 when my father was transferred from Kadoma to Bulawayo when he was working for the Cold Storage Commission (CSC).
“Life was a challenge as our parents had to struggle with the upkeep of a big family of six brothers and one sister and it was never easy and my mother had to sell doilies to make ends meet,” said Muneri.
Muneri said he soldiered on and pursued his dream career in the tourism industry.
“I studied for a Diploma of Hotel Catering and Management at Bulawayo Commercial Training Institute (BCTI) which was situated at Zimnat building and was a private college which was very expensive.
“After finishing in 1996, l moved to Victoria Falls where l became the first black manager at Spur Steak Ranches which also went on to open at Holiday Inn Bulawayo at Ascot, Beitbridge and Victoria Falls. This was when it all started, I was the general manager for the three stores,” said Muneri.
Muneri said through dedication, hard work and determination, Spur Steak Ranches realised he had the talent and the drive to make them more successful so they sent him to South Africa for training.
“I went to Cape Town for further training and this was around 1997. In 1999 to 2004 l worked at Nandos in Johannesburg and was the operations manager for the South African and Namibia stores.
“From Nandos, l had a stint with Woolworths from 2004 to 2006 before l joined Barcelos in 2006 until 2019,” said Muneri.
“At Barcelos is where my entrepreneurial skills were developed as l met my mentor, a Greek called Costa Mazzis, who is the chief executive officer for Barcelos.
“Mazzis is very supportive of the current rollout of the Hotplate Grillhouse branches in Zimbabwe and was the one who gave me the special franchise for master franchising in Zimbabwe which we are working under,” said Muneri.
Having acquired extensive knowledge of the tourism and hospitality industry, Muneri said he felt the need not to forsake his roots and come back to the country.
He said the move was also necessitated by the Second Republic’s “Zimbabwe is Open for Business” policy.
“I came back in 2019 from South Africa to invest in Zimbabwe and this was because of the clarion call of open for business led by President Mnangagwa.
“When l came back, I took a leap of faith and started investing by opening three Barcelos outlets as franchises,” he said.
Muneri said his love for the industry saw him realising a gap which he immediately grabbed.
“I realised that there was need and demand for an African offering of traditional meals and thus we started this idea of Hotplate Grillhouse which now boosts of 16 outlets in two years,” said Muneri.
A decade away in South Africa made Muneri home sick and he did not hesitate when an opportunity to relocate home presented itself.
“Home is home and nothing beats home. I was ready to take whatever comes to me. I was ready to weather the storm knowing l am home.
“I had attained experience overseas and it was time to roll it out at home,” said Muneri.
Muneri’s home coming has created jobs for 350 people.
“I am excited through the job creation and l am a young man who is eager to learn more. We take one customer at a time and we will master the game and will take it as we go.
“We are not the best, but are willing to be the best in the future,” said Muneri.
Turning to his donation of the new Hotplate Grillhouse outlet, Muneri said the establishment is all it is thanks to the customers that he is indebted to.
“It was an honour for President Mnangagwa to ask me if he could come and officiate at the opening of the Hotplate Grillhouse which has been donated to Angel of Hope Foundation. It’s a 90-seater and has staff cottages within the premises and was set up at a budget of US$200 000.
“We are humbled by the first citizen’s actions and we are in support of his office and respect his existence. We also appreciate his support to us with Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa of Angel of Hope Foundation which is the beneficiary of the restaurant.
“One brick at a time, we are trying to unite the nation. We have in the past been involved in projects like Danhiko project, Dunhudzo project. We want to make a difference and add value. Want to assist people in uplifting their lifestyle,” said Muneri.
On how he tackles being a businessman and family, Muneri said:
“I am a businessman, I manoeuvre and hustle and know what the children require for them to sustain life.
“As already said we appreciate ED for levelling a playing field and if anything this store was donated by the customers themselves,” said Muneri. — @mthabisi_mthire