“I thought my life was heading on a path towards a career in public health,” shared Cheifo. But while serving in the Peace Corps in Ivory Coast, she fell in love with bissap, a sweet hibiscus drink. Chiefo returned home to the Bay Area and realized that she wanted to switch careers and get into the food industry. Having grown up in Nigeria, she longed for a stronger presence of West African cuisine in the local food scene. “I wanted to make West African food more popular in the Bay Area. It just wasn’t on anyone’s radar here,” explains Chiefo.
With this goal in mind, Chiefo began perfecting her recipes in La Cocina’s incubator kitchen, a local non-profit organization supporting women culinary entrepreneurs.
“La Cocina gave me the resources and support that I needed,” notes Chiefo. “It’s great to be surrounded by people who are just as nervous as you are, as well as people who are more experienced. It keeps me motivated and reminds me that I’m not alone as I pursue my dream in the food industry.”
Chiefo launched her Sub-Sahara African catering business - Chiefo’s Kitchen - in 2009 at La Cocina’s Street Food Festival. It was one of the busiest booths! But in order to sell so much food, Chiefo also had to spend quite a lot of money to prepare for it—so much, in fact, that when 2011’s Street Food Festival rolled around, Chiefo was apprehensive about whether she would have enough capital to secure a booth and purchase the necessary ingredients.
She confesses, “It came down to: Should I pay rent or should I be in the Street Food Festival?” Chiefo told her manager that she would be unable to participate in the festival. But La Cocina and Opportunity Fund have worked closely together in the past, and they knew they could put Chiefo in safe hands when they referred her to Opportunity Fund for a loan. “I couldn’t believe it at first—it seemed too good to be true! It was the right loan that came at the right time.”
With her loan from Opportunity Fund secured, and solid business advising from La Cocina, Chiefo’s Kitchen was even more successful at this year’s Street Food Festival! “I felt much more comfortable this year and my booth was much more well-planned,” she gushes. Energetic and motivated by the festival’s success, Chiefo is excited to continue working on her business’s mission to “elevate the presence and appreciation of the culinary treasures from sub-Saharan Africa in the Bay Area.”
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