By Thabo Radebe
It is a quiet morning, just after the morning peak hours as I arrive at one of the biggest and most happening venues in Soweto, Disoufeng Pub and Restaurant.
I am greeted by close to 30 people who are already working – cleaning and setting up the place. I ask for the manager and seconds later, a gentleman wearing a work suit approaches and introduces himself as Benny Diphoko. He shows me a very comfortable couch and politely says, “have a sit my brother. You can call me Benzo or Mussolini,” he says with a smile. I extend my hand for a handshake and introduce myself before taking a seat.
Benny grew up in Meadowlands, Soweto. He says running and managing a pub and restaurant was the last thing on his mind growing up. “I wanted to be a soccer star. But you know life sometimes introduces you to the person you really are,” he smiles. Benny has managed some of the best venues in Soweto from Isitebe now known as The Establishment, Sedibeng, Rubycon and now Disoufeng. He says he has always loved going out to different places with friends to seek the vibe and the ambiance. He knew from then that he would one day manage a place in Soweto where people can feel like they are in Paris.
He recalls, “It all started when a friend Shimmy, started hosting events from his house and asked me to sell hotdogs and food plates there. This boy is responsible for where I am today. He sparked the fire I feel for eventing today. He used to host his events at a very small venue kwa Bheki. We would set-up and make people happy. The feedback was always beautiful wich showed me that we were in the right place.”
A year later, Benny started an event he called ‘Cheese and Wine’. People would pay a fee to be part of this event. This was one of the first of its kind in Soweto. On the day people would get introduced to beautiful décor, different local wines and cheese and still enjoy beautiful music. During our interview, his colleagues keep coming and asking for help from Benny. To me, this is not a disturbance at all. This reflects the kind of leadership skills that he possesses.
He apologises a couple of times, explaining that this is the reason he is one of the best in the industry. “I see problems first, I see a dirty glass first and I don’t hesitate to get dirty. This is why my team loves and respect me. I don’t manage, I lead. The reason you see so many people so early in the morning is because tonight I am hosting Zodwa Wabantu. She decided to celebrate her birthday here alongside Dlala Mshunqisi,” he explains and adds, “Before you see me with James Bond suit later on, this is what happens to prepare for every events we host. We are not a big venue for nothing, we work hard my brother.”
“I am even surprised why you guys chose to write about me, we don’t get too much credit in our industry. For instance I lead a staff of about 43 people. This means my boss has helped 43 people feed their families with the work we do, we are not selling people alcohol, we are creating an environment where people can unwind, relax, be with others and mostly celebrate life,” he says.
What else makes you different Benny? I ask. “Well my brother, I would say respect. First you have to have respect for every human being. With respect, you are able to go to anyone’s level. I remember there was a guy who was very angry, he was shouting and did not listen to anyone. I came to him introduced myself as the manager and I listened to him. No one can be that angry for nothing. He told me his story, it was a busy night but I gave him my time. In no time, he was cool and he asked to change his table, I assisted him and later in the night I saw him dancing and having a good time.”
“What I am trying to say is that how you carry yourself in this industry is very key.
You host a lot of famous brands. A few months ago Dosoufeng hosted Black Coffee. Benny tells me that he always makes sure that his guests including patrons are well taken care of. “I was have built good relationships with the artists I host. Some of them are like my brothers and sisters now. Khaya FM Tbos, Metro FM Sentle, T-Deep and a whole lot more,” he adds.
Benny advices people who want to do what he does to be patient, have respect and be hard workers. “You lead a team of 43, your boss has expectations and you get less sleep. You need to make sure that patron are happy all the time, sometimes we host a lot of people and you have to be there for all of them,” he says. “Build yourself to a point of leaving your problems at home when you work in this industry, there is no slacking, everyday we impress the clients, this is important because they need to be treated so good that they come again,” adds Benny.
He proudly tells me that he is very happy in his job. His plan is to make sure that this venue continues to be seen as the most classy, elegant, refined, sophisticated and premium place in Soweto.