On a beautiful Botswana summer’s morning, I met the 32-year-old restaurateur, entrepreneur and dynamo Mimi Shand. We chatted about what inspires her to reach for greatness, work balance and how to run independent businesses. And what makes her love her “no rules businesses”.
In January 2012 Mimi opened the Bean Bag Café at Maruapula School. It serves hot meals and coffee to the hungry students.
At the same time, she took over the running of the No.1 Ladies Detective Opera House and Restaurant in Kgale Siding. Sadly, less than a year later the lease on their venue was over but she bought the company anyway from the famous writer Alexander McCall Smith.
Then the great search started. Mimi needed a venue, but where? She knew that her restaurant required an independent space away from shopping malls. In 2015 she found it! Thapong Visual Arts Center. No.1 Ladies Coffee House was re-born. She fabricated buildings, verandas and a jungle gym. As she said, “It was a risk but I knew it would work out. And like a phoenix, we have risen.”
Recently she Mimi has become a silent investor in the exciting new (no under 23’s) restaurant at Molapo called the Culture Café. As she says, “I’m not necessarily a ‘silent’ silent partner.”
While we sat drinking cappuccinos at her chic No. 1 Ladies Coffee House, I asked her some questions to get a better insight into what makes this businesswoman and mother of two, tick.
o What has been the main way of getting your business’s name out there?
Word of mouth and Facebook. I spend money once or twice a month boosting posts on Facebook. It works. I also do posters at schools when I have an event on.
o What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Umm… I think my biggest challenge is the retention of staff. Managing 33 people is not easy. My next challenge would be customers. They’re not always the nicest or the fairest but we are in the business of hospitality.
o How do you deal with tricky customers?
It’s really about talking and assisting them. I think if someone has chosen to come to your venue, they have chosen to support you so you have to listen to them. We don’t generally have problems but if someone does complain we are willing to listen and work on it.
o What has helped you be a success?
Our locations and service.
o What are you most proud of?
Mimi laughs; Am I allowed to say everything? I’m genuinely proud of everything. The restaurants are multicultural and No. 1 Ladies is exactly what I want it to be. I’m proud that countless companies have used us to do their catering or use our venue for their parties. I’m incredibly proud that high profile clients choose us.
o What is your family life like outside of your businesses?
It’s awesome. They are very supportive. When you first open a business you don’t take a day off and you work from 7 till 7. They were so supportive that they used to come to No.1’s Ladies on a Saturday and Sunday and just sit at a table. That’s how my family would see me, support the business and be with Mummy.
Now things have settled I’ve taken a step back so I see my kids and we can travel more. I love travelling because I come back fresh. I see things and I’m like, ‘I want that at my restaurant’. It gives me a new perspective.
o What do you love most about being in business in Botswana?
I love that you know your suppliers. Like, that the people supplying our wine are people that I’ve met. At one point a guy I went to school with worked at our coffee supplier. The lady that does our veggies I know. They are all lovely people.
It’s also wonderful to know my clients. They’re great to do business with. Batswana are genuinely nice people and because I’ve grown up here, a lot of them I know.
I also like that I am watching change happen in my country. Like I’m not a franchise and since I have opened I have watched two other independents open, The Daily Grind and Lorraine’s Bistro. So for me, it is an exciting time to be in the industry I’m in. The independent restaurant is taking back the city. We love the franchises for being open when we are not but I also want us to have our originality and signatures. We want to be different. So that is why I love being in business in Botswana.
o What advice would you give someone starting a small business?
Research is so important so take the time to do it. Know what you want. I knew I didn’t want to be in a shopping centre;, I knew the kind of space I wanted to create.
The other thing is that it’s going to be a lot of hard work! Whoever wants to start their a business must know that it’s not easy. You must work hard and persevere.
o Did you always know that No.1 Ladies would be a success?
I had no doubt. I think that was down to the one year that I ran it prior to our current location. So I already knew that people wanted the product. So as sad as I was to close at Kgale Siding, being in town has been great for us. As one door closes another one opens and I barged through that door! . It is a match made in heaven being in Thapong Visual Arts Centre. It’s a fantastic symbiotic relationship.
o What have you got planned for the future?
I’ve employed and empowered people so that I can have more time for other things. I’m not sure what those things are yet but I am ready to live my best life.
o How do people support you?
Easy, come to the restaurants.
As Mimi and I sipped the last of our drinks and we concluded the interview, I did wonder how she could look so relaxed and vibrant. She made it sounds so simple but I knew could tell I was sitting with a tenacious businesswoman. I knew that running an independent restaurant was hard. I just kept thinking about what she said that franchises have “so many rules”. Here’ is hoping we get more independent small businesses popping up around Botswana.