A highlight on some Black-owned meals companies in Montgomery County

Penelope, left, and Kwamena Cudjoe, of Montgomery Village began their Jollof rice enterprise AMAC Meals about six years in the past.

To mark Black Historical past Month, Bethesda Beat is highlighting three native Black-owned meals companies. They described the challenges of making an attempt to get by the COVID-19 pandemic and provided steering for minority enterprise homeowners trying to get began in Montgomery County.

Kwamena and Penelope Cudjoe
AMAC Meals

Kwamena and Penelope Cudjoe began AMAC Meals, a small distributor of Jollof rice, about six years in the past out of their Montgomery Village dwelling.

The couple, who emigrated from Ghana, wished to make the rice dish that’s native to West Africa, containing tomatoes, spices and different greens. However making it from scratch usually takes round two hours, Kwamena mentioned.

“We thought that it takes a very long time to cook dinner from scratch. So, what I did was I sat down and I got here up with a system to combine all of the elements collectively,” he mentioned.

Penelope mentioned the rice is made at a manufacturing unit in Pennsylvania, then distributed to pick out shops in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. These shops embrace a number of Complete Meals places, Frequent Markets in Frederick, Dawson’s Market in Rockville and Grosvenor Market in North Bethesda.

Additionally they promote their product on-line and at farmers markets in the course of the spring and summer time, she mentioned.

Prospects who order the rice could make it in about 35 minutes, they mentioned.

Jollof rice (Getty Photographs)

Kwamena mentioned that previous to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been doing cooking demonstrations at group occasions, however that has diminished within the final two years. Nevertheless, Penelope mentioned on-line gross sales have elevated in the course of the pandemic.

“It’s a dry product and it has a 24-month shelf life. So, folks have been shopping for it to cook dinner at dwelling. Lots of people have been cooking at dwelling in the course of the pandemic,” she mentioned.

In six years, the recognition of Jollof rice has taken off as extra Individuals go to West Africa, Penelope mentioned.

“Once we began this product, folks didn’t know a lot about Jollof rice. However now folks come again and inform us, ‘Oh, I used to be in Ghana. I used to be in Nigeria. I used to be in Mali. I had Jollof rice,’” she mentioned.

“They get very excited once they see our product in the marketplace, as a result of it takes them again to once they have been in Africa.”

Penelope mentioned she is aware of a number of small minority-owned companies that discover it powerful to fund their enterprise.

“Sadly, in the event you don’t have a grandmother or a member of the family provide you with $100,000 to put money into your small business, you’re by yourself. And we got here right here from Africa, so it’s even worse,” she mentioned.

Penelope mentioned optimistic suggestions from clients retains them going.

“Once they eat the meals and are available again and provides us critiques, you’re feeling like, Oh, wow, you’re doing one thing good,” she mentioned.

Cheryl Sloan, the proprietor of Cheryl’s Kitchen in Takoma Park (Picture by Kenneth M. Wyner)

Cheryl Sloan
Cheryl’s Kitchen

For 18 years, Cheryl Sloan has been promoting maple-frosted walnuts, pecans and cashews, in addition to path combine, as a part of her enterprise Cheryl’s Kitchen.

Sloan mentioned she would all the time promote baked items with candied nuts in them to associates and kin, and they might encourage her to enter the nut enterprise.

“And so, I mentioned, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ for a number of years, and eventually determined to offer it a strive in 2004. And I’ve been in enterprise ever since,” she mentioned.

Sloan operates her enterprise out of her Takoma Park dwelling.

Till a number of years in the past, she needed to drive greater than 30 miles to Gaithersburg to make her merchandise, however for the previous few years, she has used the Takoma Park Silver Spring Group Kitchen contained in the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church on Tulip Avenue as her area.

The group kitchen was began in 2017 by the nonprofit Crossroads Group Meals Community as an reasonably priced meals preparation area for entrepreneurs who’ve gone by the group’s microenterprise coaching program.

Sloan mentioned customers pay a payment to make use of the kitchen area and should have certification from the county’s well being division for dealing with meals merchandise.

Sloan mentioned her clients embrace those that order packages of nuts by mail and those that choose them up. A lot of her enterprise has come from promoting at occasions such because the Takoma Park People Pageant and the Takoma Park Road Pageant. The shortage of in-person occasions the final two years as a result of pandemic has been very difficult, she mentioned.

“What’s saved me afloat has been … my product was within the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op. My product has been distributed at one of many native theaters. And so, once you’ve received to essentially change gears like that, it makes all of the distinction on the earth,” she mentioned.

Sloan now has a company sponsor to assist her place a lot of orders, which has helped in the course of the pandemic.

Sloan mentioned that anybody who desires to get into enterprise ought to ensure their dream is practical and speak with one other skilled.

“Attempt to discover someone who’s been in a enterprise much like yours, who’s been profitable, with the intention to sort of have a buddy system. As a result of once you’ve received to be taught all of this by your self, it may be overwhelming,” she mentioned.

Tanya Doka-Spandhla of Ardour to Seed Gardening (Submitted picture)

Tanya Doka-Spandhla
Ardour to Seed Gardening

Tanya Doka-Spandhla began Ardour to Seed Gardening on a farm in Gaithersburg that the landowner leases to her.

Doka-Spandhla participated within the county’s New Farmer Program — a program by the Workplace of Agriculture that offers enterprise coaching to startup farmers, and teaches them sustainable farm practices.

She met her landowner by the Land Hyperlink Montgomery program, which matches new farmers and landowners.

Doka-Spandhla sells produce that features Zimbabwean corn, okra, pumpkin leaves and mustard greens, amongst different gadgets. Previous to the pandemic, she bought her produce at a close-by farmers market.

“For an extended time period, I used to be not capable of go there due to the pandemic. And in a way, I misplaced contact with clients that may usually come to my farmers market stand,” she mentioned.

Doka-Spandhla finally directed her clients to make appointments to select their produce up from the farm as a substitute. The landowner didn’t thoughts the change, she mentioned.

For minority companies in Montgomery County, Doka-Spandhla mentioned, the price of proudly owning land may be prohibitive.

“There’s that problem residing in Montgomery County, as a result of land will not be inside attain (financially) for some folks,” she mentioned. She drives half-hour from her dwelling to get to the farm.

The Land Hyperlink program, run by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, has given quite a lot of minority farmers the chance to start out their ventures, senior conservation affiliate Kristina Bostick advised Bethesda Beat final 12 months.

“Typically, they’ve deep expertise from years of their dwelling nation. And what’s so great is they’re bringing crops that is perhaps unfamiliar to us which can be culturally applicable for his or her communities,” Bostick mentioned on the time.

Doka-Spandhla mentioned her objective is to dwell and farm in the identical place.

“Given that chance when your land is there and your dwelling’s there, you will get so much achieved,” she mentioned.

***

The Montgomery County Meals Council, a nonprofit, has a listing of some Black- and minority-owned meals companies on its web site.

Click on right here for Black Historical past Month occasions and assets

Dan Schere may be reached at [email protected]