Woman to Watch: Zweli Moyo-Williams

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Opening a restaurant is quite a feat in itself, but opening a restaurant as a minority female who immigrates to the United States of America comes with its own obstacles. Life experiences can sometimes convince a person to just survive and not thrive. That is not the case for the owner of Zweli’s. Zweli Moyo-Williams has brilliantly done so and you will not only be glad she did but you, like others, will be encouraged to follow your heart’s desire.

Moyo-Williams was born and raised in Zimbabwe and had a middle class up bringing. The product of a a single-parent household headed by her mother, she had everything she asked for. Her mother, a successful and hard working business owner, kept the family culturally grounded and provided for them. “We were never hungry like some families; we were always clothed, had a beautiful home and a decent family car to drive.”

Suddenly, her life was not so pleasant. At the age 2, Zweli and her family found themselves in the middle of what is still known as one of the worst civil wars of Africa. She was taken away from my mother. Separated from her family and given a life of poverty was a new reality.  There was no more eating full meals three times a day. Now she was going without food, clothing or shoes, and at times even without water. Can you imagine?!

Zweli says “Here is where I lost all hope in love, God, and even in myself. It was also here, that I lost my innocence and a self-worth. It was those traumatic years of my life that would haunt my dreams and my soul for years to come.” For five years, her mother never stopped looking for ways to rescue her child. Even in the middle of a war zone, she found the strength and courage to walk amongst soldiers to get to her daughter. The day she finally reunited with her mother, marked the end of a horrendous experience.

It was at this moment her love for food began to emerge. At the age of 11, she would sneak into the kitchen to create recipes. “I would attempt to serve my mom the creations I made and weird-looking and -tasting as it was, my mom would just eat it, and laugh at me saying, “I had no idea one could mix collard greens and eggs.”

After graduating from high school she came to America to study abroad. Again, her mother’s love created this investment in an effort to provide Zweli and her sisters’ the best education possible. During college, her food and  management career started, eventually she was awarded the opportunity to be in front of the house manager of a restaurant of a major franchise.

Another life altering event would soon rear it’s ugly head that almost threw Zweli off track of her dream. After college, she found herself the victim of a dangerous marriage. “As a young woman, I thought the right thing to do was graduate from college, have a career, get married and raise kids of my own. Instead, I found myself in an abusive marriage that on occasions almost left me for dead; withdrawn from everyone and everything I had come to believe in. That same fear and self worth I had lost as a child revisited me once more. The feeling of not being capable of doing anything with my life consumed me. It was amazing to me, that at that point where I had lost all hope, I regained it during the birth of my son.” She left the marriage when her son was 2 months old. She left with only her son.

She provided for the two of him by giving her all, day and night, just to make ends meet. Food became so scarce once again that at times she chose to go hungry so her son could be fed. Feeling alone again, that did not stop her. Zweli, regained the strength to rebuild herself while enduring the hardships and obstacles of not only being a single mother and African, but simultaneously competing in the work force. She found the strength to not give up nor look back. That strength was taking care of my family. Eventually she made a name for her self and became successful in the food industry.

Fast forward to today, in the early summer of 2018 Zweli opened her first restaurant in Durham. It’s called Zweli’s, as well it should be. This is a fabrication of her life’s tremendous journey of a passionate relationship with love of family and food. After catering for the likes of district public school events, Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, etc., her dream has become reality. The restaurant uses locally grown and organic foods and boasts African culture with a Latino infusion. You may find more vegan and organic options than most places in the area. The seats and tables were made by local carpenter. One can even sit at the community table and meet strangers who become family by the end of an incredibly delicious and satisfying meal. The art featured throughout are creations from local artists.

I asked Zweli what does she see when she looks in the mirror. “I am here. Today, I am a happy wife, a loving mother, a blessed daughter, a beloved sister, a vigorous leader and an entrepreneur. My inspiration comes from my family. All the experiences that I’ve had, tough as they may have been at times, have shaped me into who I am. They have given me good hope; hope that one day I can achieve greatness and success in whatever I do. I am a survivor, hard worker and fierce at whatever I put faith in. I do believe in the success that is to come. I have worked hard throughout my carreer, and as I embark through this new venture, I feel blessed, and am ready to bless others as the Lord has blessed my life.

This angel, as I call her, who has been through hell not once but twice, hopes to inspire little girls and boys, who have also suffered and still go through all traumatic experiences. That she is. Her staff, which is made up mostly of college students, boasts about how she’s made an impression on them from changing careers to caring about food quality, security, and accessibility. Family and friends love her authenticity and natural style. She is determined yet family-oriented. One of her servers, Jakari, refers to her as…”ambitious and charismatic.”

Justin, Zweli’s manager said “Watching her journey has given me the strength to grow professionally as well.”

Leonardo, her husband, can’t help but smile when he thinks of his wife and her accomplishments. “She’s been through so much. She deserves this and so much more. This is only the beginning for us.”

Zweli is a beautiful example of what it is like to live in a place where you can have the life you dream of. The audacity to not feel leveled at just existing. The freedom to endure hardships but see the painful beauty of being resilient and realistic possibilities of reaching beyond a vision.

I highly recommend you visit this young lady’s restaurant and taste what it’s like to believe in yourself.

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