Zwelibanzi Moyo-Williams is a Zimbabwean entrepreneur based in the United States of America. She co-owns Zweli’s Kitchen & Catering with her husband Leonardo Williams, which is thought to be the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the US. At the restaurant, Zweli is affectionately known as Chef Zwe.
Zwlibanzi Moyo-Williams was born in Zimbabwe and is the third of four children. The first couple years of her life were good, but her life took a drastic turn when she was two. It was during a time of civil war in Zimbabwe called Gukurahundi, when a series of massive attacks were carried out in Matebeleland, a region largely occupied by the Ndebele people. Zwelibanzi Moyo-Williams grew up in Bulawayo, but moved to the United States in 1998 to study hospitality and tourism. She met her husband, Leonardo, at North Carolina Central University, and they created a happy life together.
Once she finished high school, Williams decided to move to the US to further her education. Since childhood, she had enjoyed cooking and creating recipes. So Hospitality and Tourism was a natural choice for her. She began catering small events during college and honed her culinary skills. The more she explored her passion, the deeper she fell in love with food. Her talent was undeniable. She worked in several key positions within her field and soon landed a job as a manager of a major restaurant franchise.
In 2016, Williams launched her own catering company and it was an instant hit. “I was surprised. Everywhere I went, people were just willing to support and genuinely loved the food,” she said. Her company became preferred caterers for Duke University, Google, the University of North Carolina, and other organizations. Today, her hard work has paid off and she is the proud owner of her very own restaurant. She is happily married to her college sweetheart, Leonardo Williams, and wholeheartedly believes that the sky is the limit.
Zweli knew something was missing after her move to the US and it was the taste of home. “I missed home. Growing up back home in Zimbabwe, I used to love to cook a lot. Traditional food. When I came to this country it was so difficult for me to try to explain the flavours to people. Every time I would make food for someone, they were uncomfortable with it. They were uncomfortable seeing me eat sadza with my hands. But when they tried it they really liked it,” she said.
In 2018, the couple opened Zweli’s Kitchen, serving southern African classics such as peri-peri chicken, oxtail stew, magwinya and chakalaka. Boerwors, made specially for them by a Zimbabwean who owns a butchery in rural North Carolina, is a big hit. It sells for $16 (R260), with two side orders. The restaurant received rave reviews in the local newspaper, the News & Observer. It noted the similarity between southern African cuisine and comfort food from America’s Deep South, which is closely linked to the African American community.
In January 2020, disaster struck the Durham neighbourhood where the restaurant is located. A spate of mysterious illnesses in a public housing complex was traced to increased levels of carbon monoxide, and the complex was evacuated overnight. Suddenly, more than 700 people were homeless — and they needed to eat. “We own a restaurant,” explained Leonardo Williams.
“So we used our restaurant to feed the community.” Over the course of several weeks, they served 47 000 meals to families in desperate need.
It was this community service that attracted the attention of the Biden campaign. The couple has urged their community to vote in the upcoming election, regardless of who they are voting for.
Invitation by Joe Biden at his final debate
There were not many people in the audience at the final presidential debate, held in Nashville, Tennessee, on Thursday 22 October 2020. To supplement the campaign staffers and family members, each candidate was allowed to bring two guests.
True to form, Donald Trump went for celebrity appeal, inviting his friend and former pro golfer John Daly as well as the musician Kid Rock, who has been actively campaigning for the president.
Joe Biden took a different approach. He invited Zwelibanzi Moyo-Williams and Leonardo Williams, the owners of Zweli’s Kitchen, which is thought to be the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the US.
They were contacted the day before the event by a Biden staffer, who asked them how fast they could make their way to Nashville. They live in Durham, North Carolina, so they rented a car and drove overnight to get there.
“It was surreal,” Moyo-Williams told the Mail & Guardian. “We were sitting with his wife, Dr Jill, and his granddaughter, and we had some really nice conversations with them.”