By Buhle Andisiwe Made
As rapper Nayvadius DeMun Cash, better known as Future, would put it in his hit song ‘Digital Dash’ with rapper and friend Aubrey Drake Graham, who goes by Drake: “I put in the work, it was evident”.
Pietermaritzburg-raised Unathi Mtsi is a sure example of those lyrics. The 21-year-old former Rhodes University student went from being enrolled in his Bachelor of Commerce degree to selling pizza to students on campus and, later, dropping out of his course. Mtsi has now opened his fast food restaurant, The Night Owl, situated at the nightclub 37 On New.
Unathi saw a need for students to be catered for at a reasonable price, especially in the evenings. The restaurant offers a menu of options that cater to the students’ budgets. As a student himself at the time, Mtsi recognised the lack of food deliveries available after 11pm, and realised he could have a solid market. With the inconvenience of limited dining options beyond dinner time, Mtsi thought to himself, “let me do something.” He started by approaching nightclub owners around the town. Local establishment Oldies granted him permission to set up a food stall outside the nightclub.
He began by selling boerewors rolls to the students, kicking off his entrepreneurial journey with the same grill he uses today. After spending two months selling to his fellow students outside Oldies, he then approached Pick ‘n Pay’s bakery, where he partnered with the franchise to bake pizza for him. The bakery supplied him with pizza and in return, he was sold the pizzas for R40 each. At the time, this generated a comfortable profit of R10 000 per month. Before long, Mtsi was a successful businessman, all the while as a student in the second year of his BCom degree.
In September of 2022, Mtsi was linked with his now mentor, Craig McKenzie, founder of Debonairs from his alma mater, Maritzburg College. McKenzie assisted Mtsi with his business plan on how to start a restaurant. Over a period of two months, Msti developed his business plan.
After rigorous research and planning, Mtsi communicated with the owner of 37 On New to rent the space outside of the nightclub. Mtsi says two of his friends invested in his vision and business and now assist him in running The Night Owl.
Mtsi’s future plans are to accommodate a larger number of customers. He also has 50 wooden pallets which he will use to build furniture. As he started his business with pizza, Mtsi plans on making his own pizza. His goal now is to have a pizza fridge to store in pizza bases in bulk.
Currently, Mtsi has had invaluable support from his friends and Rhodes University students who assist him during the day. The business is open regularly and The Night Owl team is accumulating sufficient funds to amplify their customer appeal and service.
“I felt like I was working toward something that quite frankly was for me, it was for my parents.” Mtsi wants students to know that they should allow themselves to pave their own paths and work towards their dreams without being influenced by outsiders who divert them from their intended plans. He concluded that “the younger you are, the less severe the consequences of taking risks”, alluding to the idea that if one has ideas or a dream, one should be able to take risks.