A Slice of Life at Pizza Shed with James and Tando
19 July 2023
Pizza Shed is testament to the power of a dream executed with determination; what started as a pizza oven in a garden shed is now an established business with a cult-like following. We chatted to founders and owners Tando Bavuma and James Williams about their journey so far.
You began the business in a shed in your back garden during lockdown. Today, you’re trading in two locations. What was that transition like?
Given the fact that we started the business from our house, and initially only delivered the pizzas, we didn’t know how people would respond when we moved into our Mowbray store. So, to go from us in our garden to people waiting outside our ugly little shop on a Wednesday night, we were like, “Yoh, this is pretty cool.”
We chatted earlier about how you put a lot of heart and soul (and sweat), into renovating and decorating the Observatory store yourselves. What did that entail?
When we find a space, we have to do a lot of the hard work ourselves. So we painted this place – painting the ceiling was probably the worst thing we've ever done in our lives. The whole thing was fraught with frustration [laughs]. We’d cut something too short or too long, or drill the wrong hole in the wrong place and have to do it all over again. But we did it.
As a small business grows, the role of a business owner evolves as you hire a team and have a little bit more capital to outsource things. What has this looked like for you?
It was only two or three months ago when we stopped having to make the dough ourselves every morning. Now, we’re able to do slightly higher level management things. We need to focus on different things every day, and it can feel like our roles change every minute. Now, it's about managing people, you know, which is a lot more tricky.
It’s a big shift, and people management comes up time and time again as something that small business owners initially struggle with. How have you approached this?
We’re constantly learning and getting better at how to manage a diverse set of people. It can be very rewarding if you get it right. But you are one person, you're one character. Now you have to be 20 different characters for 20 different people. You have a different relationship with each member of staff, so you need to approach everyone in a way that resonates.
Now for the million rand question: what’s the most challenging thing about running the business?
Loadshedding! Everyone thinks because we use a wood-fired oven, we’re not affected – but we have WiFi, coffee machines, and fridges. If we have no cheese or dough, we have a big problem. So, when your fridge cuts out in the middle of the night, your dough completely over-proofs… but somehow we have to deliver a consistent product to the customer who had it the day before. It's completely out of control. Our dough is the star of the show; we put all of our energy into it, so it needs to be regulated meticulously.
Loadshedding aside, you’ve also had to deal with a fire in your Observatory store; I think it’s easy for a business to be completely derailed when things go wrong, and you end up treading water instead of moving forward. How do you overcome challenges and make sure you’re still growing?
The one thing I do when things get tough is to remind myself that there are thousands and thousands of other small business owners who’re in the same shoes. It all comes down to mindset – I need to back myself, and believe in my ability, and also in our product. The most valuable thing to me in terms of the business is knowing what I want and what I’m trying to achieve.Then I can work towards it one step at a time.
What are some lessons you’ve learned that might be helpful to someone who wants to take the leap and start their own business?
It’s cliche, but believing in yourself. As I mentioned above, it is so, so important. Another thing that’s said often – because it’s true – is the most difficult thing is just.. starting. Working on your business everyday, bit by bit, is what fosters exponential growth. Also, this is a journey of continuous learning, and you get a little bit better with every step you take.
Let’s talk about your relationship with Yoco: what has your experience been like so far?
When we began, we decided to go with Yoco because of how easy it is to get up and running – it took less than a day. The portal is cool to use – being able to see your payouts is so useful. Overall everything is stable and the payouts are frequent. I also appreciate how Yoco has other options available to help small businesses grow, like Yoco Capital. That support is really cool.