Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
NEWLY-REBRANDED Comfort Pub and Grill in Victoria Falls is fast becoming a melting pot of leisure to tourists.
Providing a wide selection of services such as food, music, entertainment, night clubbing and soon public activities, the place situated near National Railways of Zimbabwe train station attracts scores of tourists who want to hang out at night.
It has arguably added to night life in the resort town where tourists usually end up hanging around at hotel bars as night places close early.
Surprisingly, the leisure centre is now known as far as East Africa, thanks to over-landers who bring their clients for night clubbing.
Comfort Pub and Grill is a family business run by Nicholas Mukarati, a former high-ranking manager in the tourism industry at United Touring Company (UTC) together with his wife, mother and sisters.
The business started in 2009 at Indian Delights premises before moving to UTC property after which they started building the current premises.
Mukarati and his United Kingdom-based sisters Dorcas and Margaret share 49 percent shares while their mother, a renowned restaurant operator running Gogo Nhira Restaurant, owns 51 percent.
The family also operates Chinotimba Sports Club while Gogo Nhira also runs another restaurant nearby.
Mukarati said the past few months had been dedicated to rebranding the place with a vision to make it a leisure centre of choice.
“Our vision is to make the place a fully fleshed hang out place with food and drinks. We are sprucing it up to improve its outlook so it can attract envisaged clientele. It’s taking shape and we are 60 percent complete with the remaining 40 percent to be completed within a year,” said Mukarati.
He added: “We want to mix business hence we are engaging tourism operators so we can partner each other so that whenever we bring an artiste here we can bus their fans from anywhere at special rates. We feel this vision can help boost tourism.”
He said they are also expanding to include an upmarket cocktail to separate the food section from the bar because some clients would want to have their meals away from where people drink beer.
Comfort Pub and Grill caters for everyone in the society.
“We have no market segmentation as we cater for all sections of the society. We want it to be friendly and welcoming as is reflected in our pricing.
Drinks start from $1 while meals start at $2 a portion.
Mukarati said they had been predominantly providing isitshwala and rice with different relishes and now they have included isitshwala senyawuthi and amabele, which is the business’ biggest earner.
“We have now diversified to include a fast food section to cater for people like tourists who don’t want to sit and eat because they are busy.
Mukarati says by catering for everyone, they will survive competition where there are numerous other big restaurants.
“Competition is healthy. We will survive because we have managed to embrace all kinds of clients while we have also maintained menus our mother started 15 years ago,” Mukarati said.
The place opens at 7AM daily and closes at midnight on Sundays and 3AM every other day in line with the licence given to the business.
Probably the best contribution Comfort Pub and Grill has made so far is to add to night life where people now have a place to be after 10PM.
Mukarati said once renovations are done, they will host families, birthday parties and anniversaries who will enjoy discounts.
“There is a lot of idle time that we want to open to the public and we are looking at having jumping castles and braai stands although we are yet to set ourselves properly like upgrade security walls and engage professionals who can handle children,” said Mukarati, a father of four.
Mukarati is the executive director and manages the bar and entertainment side while his mother is a non-executive director.
HIs wife Hazel manages the food business.
Mukarati and renowned Victoria Falls DJ Mehluli “DJ Hluz” Ncube and Farai Makuvare last year formed Vic Falls Funfest Entertainment stable to develop entertainment in Victoria Falls in partnership with Comfort Pub and Grill.
So far the stable has hosted Judgment Yard, Shinsoman, Progress Chipfumo and Kwejane Band, Ras Caleb, Boom Beto, Ziyawa Queens among a host of artistes.
“We want to support local artistes and give them the stage to share with established musicians. Tourism is no longer about visiting a place but it’s about locals selling the cultural brand,” he said.
He added: “The market is overwhelming as we have inquiries from artistes countrywide while tourists eat and hang out at night. We were shocked to hear that the place is famous as far as East Africa.
Mukarati said his success dates back to his childhood days where he attended former group A schools which gave him confidence in life.
He said they were forced to play every sport at school and that helped him make friends who later turned business partners.
He is a former hockey and cricket player, having played alongside former school classmates Andy and Grant Flower as well as Heath Streak and also played rugby for Old Hararians.
He joined the tourism industry soon after finishing Form Four when he got a job at Azambezi Hotel and did his professional education through correspondence where he attained a diploma in Sales and Marketing with Unisa and later a diploma in general management.
In 1990 he joined UTC where he worked for 15 years. He was general manager when he left to join Pioneer Company in 2004.