As Beethoven said, only the pure of heart can make a good soup. Yemisi Awosan proves this theory; she creates delicious West African dishes with a mission to empower the farmers and artisans she works with. Yemisi is the founder of Egunsifoods (pronounced A-Goo-See), a Harlem-based food company that has been featured in The New York Times, Bon Appétit and is stocked in Fairway Market and Whole Foods.
Tell us a bit about yourself and when you developed your talent for cooking.
Growing up in Nigeria, I always helped my mum around the kitchen, and liked to observe how to cook for big crowds during holidays and celebrations. When I moved to the US in 2014, I found that people were curious about what it was like growing up in Africa. This persisted throughout college and I started to cook for my friends and their friends, using the food I grew up eating to share more about my culture and heritage. I was always on the phone with my mum to make sure I had it right. After I graduated, my friends from college missed my food. I sent them recipes or did batch cooking for them when I visited and spent most of my weekends gathering other friends together for food in New York. I was always entrepreneurial and thought about how I could turn it into a business. I spent time working as a buyer in a large company, learning how to run a business and grow a successful brand.
I always say Egunsifoods is me telling the story of my African heritage in the way only I uniquely can. I combine that with my business background, which helps me to understand what metrics I should be looking at in order to grow and hopefully make the brand successful.
What inspired you to create Egunsi Foods?
I love my culture and love sharing it with others. Food brings people together. Like painting, fashion, and music, food is about sharing a viewpoint and an expression of culture.
In 2017, I finally took the opportunity to work full-time towards growing my own brand, Egunsifoods, after a couple of years of testing the market to validate my product concepts.
While doing research, I considered a range of services like corporate catering, personal cheffing, supper club events, and pop-ups. I knew that whatever I did, it would have to align with my philosophy of eating fresh and clean with no additives or preservatives.
With great feedback and proof of concepts, I developed Egunsifoods’ first West African refrigerated ready-to-eat consumer packaged goods. Our soups and sauces are really versatile and can be easily incorporated into our customers’ daily meals, and they’re easily accessible through our grocery accounts so that we can meet them where they are. We also sell on our own platform to be able to set forth the image of what the Egunsifoods brand is.
Is there one recipe on your website that you wish everyone would try?
I love them all, but if I have to go with one I would say the Obe Ata Seafood Stew. I like this recipe because of its versatility and how it comes together so quickly using one of Egunsifoods soups; it is packed with so much flavor with a kick of spice that is unexpected from the habanero. Love it!
We’re finding more and more that consumers want to support companies who are making a positive impact in the world. Your philosophy is to give back to African farmers and artisans. Can you tell us why that’s an integral part of your business?
Our philosophy to give back to African farmers and artisans is integral to my business. I was never looking for a handout but an opportunity to grow my business on a level playing field. I believe these farmers are looking for the same thing, an opportunity for their businesses to thrive and succeed. If I’m able to grow my business to be as successful as I envision, their businesses will grow too, and we’ll be on the same growth trajectory. There is a saying in Yoruba that goes, “give a man a fish he will come back for more, teach a man to fish and he will not go hungry for the rest of his life”. This is the core of my philosophy, for the farmers, artisans and for my business as well.
What do you know now that you wish you knew before you started? Do you have advice for women who are just starting out?
I thought I knew this, but it’s a different experience when you are actually are in it, getting funding to scale the business has been much slower than I thought it will be. It is a difficult and super slow process, that requires patience and not getting discouraged, but believing in the reason you started the business.
My advice for women who are just starting is to be patient, always remember why you started your business, let that be at the center of everything you do. When things aren’t going the way you envision it to be or you are not getting the funds you need, be patient. Things have a way of working themselves out. Try and focus on the wins, not just what’s not working out as this will help give you that encouragement and motivation to move you forward. Holding onto discouraging thoughts will hold you back.
"Be patient, always remember why you started your business and let that be at the center of everything you do."BACK TO FOUNDATION