WATCH | 'Depressing' queue for burger joint jobs was a wake up call, says Maps Maponyane
The actor opens up about how going into the restaurant business has made him realise just how bad the unemployment crisis is
I am meeting Maps Maponyane, the head prefect of SA’s celebrity cohort, at one of his multiple ventures: Buns Out, a witty burger joint in Rosebank.
By witty I mean the menu follows in the same vein as the name of the place and you get to laugh inside as you eat organically sourced beef from amazingly well-looked-after cows they can probably name.
You can’t really have lunch at a tech start-up. I mean, you probably can — don’t they always have harvest tables, indoor slides and table tennis in those places?
But here we are. Unfailingly polite and true to form, Maps arrives bearing gifts — two Lindt chocolates which promptly roll under the banquette.
We have a few awkward moments scrambling to retrieve them and once we settle down and recover from all the bonhomie I ask him how business is faring given that he started this branch of the burger chain during lockdown?
“We opened the first Buns Out in Linden five months before lockdown. Four months into lockdown we thought we should take the gap by going into a space which we would otherwise would not have gotten into. We are sitting in that space in Rosebank. We took some calculated risks in growing the brand, then we opened Norwood.”
Maps has been entrepreneurial since his days of trading marbles at primary school, and the thread of entrepreneurship has run concurrently with his public profile.
“It has been incredibly challenging during the pandemic — especially in the food retail space, there are so many types of relationships to manage and all the elements have to coincide for your business to run smoothly.
“And of course everything does not really run smoothly. Learning how to communicate is key. Things obviously won’t go to plan, so much is out of your control, every small thing can affect your business in a big way.”
How does he feel about the economy and the country?
“I am always optimistic about where we can possibly go, unfortunately I wish I could be more optimistic about where we are at.
“It was shown to us more than ever when we recently held interviews at Buns Out. Our marketing team put out the advert and the next day we had 3,000 people arrive. It was literally like a voting line.
“It was extremely depressing — all we could do was take their CVs and ask everyone to go home. We will definitely never make that mistake again.”
I look at the pictures on his phone and I am shocked into a very real sense of the employment crisis we face.
Statistics are one thing, but the insane queue I see brings the situation into stark focus.
“The reason I went into this business was to create employment — that more than anything else made it more real, how bad the situation really is,” says Maps.
We are in a very bad space as a people and as a nation right now, we have the highest unemployment in the worldMaps Maponyane
“We need to employ more people and encourage more people and businesses to employ. We are in a very bad space as a people and as a nation right now, we have the highest unemployment in the world.”
We change the subject. I have always admired Maps’s way with a name.
He can remember them. All of them.
How does he do it? He laughs. “I love words, I love languages [he is fluent in French], I love names and the stories behind them and I love the idea of being very intentional with every encounter I have with someone. There is nothing more intentional than being with someone and remembering their name.”
Does he feel pressure to maintain a particular persona? “As cheesy as it is, with great power comes great responsibility ... I don’t like the word ‘power’, but a certain level of influence comes with that. I want to be a positive influence in everything I do. I always try to, and be the person that I would want to be for a younger me.
“I try to be consistent in all the decisions I make and true to my personality and morals. If you are trying to be someone else, things become complicated. I try to make it a natural reflex in everything I do. It makes it easier, less strain than if you are trying to be a persona.”
Once I realise quite how many balls he is juggling — producing, new artificial intelligence and tech start-ups, the burgeoning burger empire — I wonder if he is actually an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, the ultimate type-A personality?
He laughs. “I am really good at messing up my pursuits of excellence and perfection, but at least the intention to get things right is there. I am a really detail-orientated person.”
So at the ripe age of 31, what do his 30s hold? “I am not a person who has five-year goals, I don’t have long-term goals, I try to make the most of my present and see where the journey will take me.
“But I try to be as productive as possible on a daily basis. I think any other approach is counterproductive and limiting. I mean you set yourself a goal and you surprise yourself by surpassing it.
“Life is a journey of finding yourself. How are you going to find yourself if you already know where you are going? We make better decisions as we grow into ourselves. As much as I like to be in control I really subscribe to maktub — Arabic for ‘it is written in the stars’.