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Debonairs Pizza Born in the USA!

2017/07/29 07:27:23 PM

During a gap year in the United States, UKZN alumni Mr Craig Mackenzie came up with the idea of establishing a pizza empire in South Africa.


Mr Craig MacKenzie 
During a gap year in the United States, UKZN alumni Mr Craig Mackenzie came up with the idea of establishing a pizza empire in South Africa… and so the concept for Debonairs Pizza was born!

A co-founder of the well known South African pizza business, MacKenzie grew up on a dairy farm in Ixopo, going on to complete his high school education at Maritzburg College in Pietermaritzburg

While in the United States, he encountered pizza chains which did home deliveries, a service that did not then exist in South Africa. 

MacKenzie spotted a gap in the South African market, but was told the model would never work in his country because of the security situation impacting home delivery, and the fact that ‘South Africans don’t eat pizza’.

Back in South Africa, MacKenzie started with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degreespecialising in Agricultural Economics at the then University of Natal. 

In 1991 during his second year of studies, MacKenzie and a colleague, Mr Andrew Harvey, who was studying for a Bachelor of Commerce degree, started Debonairs Pizza in Pietermaritzburg. The duo rented a bakery from MacKenzie’s brother, Cameron, and started churning out pizzas. Their home delivery drivers made a good impression by wearing bowties and soon business was booming.

The enterprise grew quickly, and now boasts more than 600 stores country-wide with home deliveries still a driving force.

Challenges to starting the business included being told it would never work as well as difficulties with capital and cash flow. 

MacKenzie said starting their business while still studying meant that time management and organisational skills were extremely important for them. The network they developed at UKZN was invaluable as it helped them through their degrees and worked with them during the start-up of their business. Their networks remain invaluable to this day, with many of their partners and suppliers over the years having been directly or indirectly associated with UKZN.

MacKenzie and Harvey sold the holding company along with the Steers Master Licence for KwaZulu-Natal to Famous Brands in 2000. There were 135 outlets at the time of hand over.

MacKenzie’s wife, Shanon, who graduated from UKZN with a BCom in 1992, is also fully involved in the business and the couple still own 25 Debonairs Pizza outlets as well as a number of Steers, Wimpy, Milky Lane, Fishaways, Milky Lane and Mugg & Bean restaurants.

They live on a sugar farm in Mid-Illovo and run their businesses from home while also maintaining offices in Durban and Gaborone. 

MacKenzie has also been involved business wise with the Equatorial Coffee Company and Corner Bakery, a Yamaha dealership in Gaborone, Biochem and Nu Eco brands, property development and sugarcane farming.

MacKenzie encouraged graduates considering entrepreneurship to dedicate time to vital research and planning.

‘You invariably don’t need to reinvent the wheel, it is more about taking best practice from proven brands or businesses and adding a unique perspective,’ said MacKenzie, who learned from international brands by adopting, localising and enhancing some of their business strategies.

‘We knew that we could be internationally competitive because we had employed all the latest technology and in some cases enhanced systems,’ said MacKenzie.

He encouraged entrepreneurs to partner with and employ the best people as one person never had all the required skills to excel. 


Christine Cuénod

UKZNDABA online

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