African immigrants love their traditional African food. They love their fufu, their jollof rice, their moin moin and a variety of other authentic African staples and delicacies. But these foods are not always available outside the African continent. That is where Destiny African Market comes in. Owned and operated by Mrs. Sola Ajao out of Randolph Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, Destiny African Market fulfills a critical need for Africans in the Boston area and earns NPM’s small business spotlight. Enjoy this interview with Fikayo Ajao, daughter of the proprietress, who spoke on behalf of her mother about the hopes and dreams of Destiny African Market.
NPM: Miss Fikayo welcome to Nigerian Parents Magazine. It is good to have you here today to spotlight your mother’s business. Let’s start with you telling us about your mother.
AJAO: My mom’s name is Mrs. Sola Ajao. She is the owner of Destiny African Market & Variety Store located at 502 South Main Street, Randolph, Massachusetts. She has been a resident of Randolph, Massachusetts for over 20 years. My mother only has a high school diploma, but she has managed to put multiple people through college and has raised successful entrepreneurs. She is also a minister’s wife and community servant. She specializes in catering Nigerian and other African foods for weddings, special events, corporate events, university events, and meal preparation for doctors and healthcare workers.
NPM: Tell us a bit of her background. What is her origin?
AJAO: My mother was born and raised in Nigeria. She moved to America in the 80s and started cooking for her entire family at a very young age. So, she has been cooking for a very long time. That is one of her many passions.
NPM: Being a mother and running a business are very demanding tasks. How does your mother manage the demands of raising a family and running a business at the same time?
AJAO: I think part of how she does it is just by her willpower. She thoroughly enjoys cooking and feeding people. That is not something she sees as work. However, I know, of course, it is very time-consuming. She gets support from other family members and her husband, Pastor Henry Ajao. We, her children, have been helpful too. Even from a young age, we understood the work she was doing. She has been an entrepreneur all our lives; she worked for herself for the most part, which resulted in many of us becoming entrepreneurs.
NPM: What is your mother’s parenting style that made all of you focused to become entrepreneurs?
AJAO: My mother is a great mother who is very open and loving. She is a typical Nigerian strict parent. However, she never once made us feel like we had to be a particular person. She is busy following her passions while allowing her children to follow their passions. In addition, of course, being a caterer and a chef, she provided three square meals a day for us. Just like many other Nigerian parents, she expected us to go to college and do great things. She also expected us to be entrepreneurs. This is what she was always adamant about since we were young.
NPM: She kept you all focused and grounded in a society with so many distractions for young people. So how did she do it?
AJAO: Well, it is a process. As any family goes through trials and tribulations, child rearing is not easy. Again, her passion for food and her love for what she did inspire all of us. I must say that we are not the only people she has raised. She has raised dozens of children. They have turned out to do well and often attribute their success to her support.
NPM: Let us talk about the business, Destiny African Market. Tell us all about it.
AJAO: Destiny African Market is a family-run store. It is in Randolph, Massachusetts, and we service Randolph’s surrounding town and cities, which includes Avon, Stoughton, Brockton, Braintree, Bridgewater and as far as Boston as well. We offer authentic tropical African foods and goods directly from all over Africa, particularly Nigeria.
It is not easy to find authentic African food in stores. There are not many African markets in Massachusetts, per the number of Africans living in the state. Destiny African Market is here to solve that problem, not just for the Nigerian community but also for Africa. We offer foods from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and others. We recently got some tea, herbs, and spices from Kenya. Some people who come into the store are in tears because they come across something they have not seen since they were children. Many other businesses will not have those items because it is so hard to import that item.
NPM: What motivated your mother to commercialize African food at the level that she is doing it now?
AJAO: She has always wanted to have a store. She has been the catalyst for other people who have African markets. In the state of Massachusetts, she was one of the people who inspired ownership of African markets. She has been doing this business for 20 to 30 years since she came to this country. However, 2021 became a turning point as far as opening up physical space because it is something that she has always wanted to do. She put it off again because she was taking care of the home. She was one of the first sets of people to contract COVID-19. She was hospitalized for six weeks. We did not know if she was going to make it or not. It was a scary moment for us. When she recovered, she promised herself that she would live out her dreams and not wait until it was the right time. We could say that COVID-19 inspired her.
NPM: Talk about something good coming out of a bad situation. It is remarkable what your mother is doing. Where is she expecting to see this business in the next few years? And then what would you like to share with the public on her behalf about this business?
AJAO: She would love to see this business grow in multiple locations. It is something that she wants to do. Even though we are here in Randolph, that still does not solve the problem. Some people will say, great, I do not have to drive to Boston. However, someone in Bridgewater still has to go to Randolph. There is a need to fill the gap of accessibility to African food. So, opening in multiple locations across Massachusetts, across the country, is a significant long-term goal. However, one short-term goal is to mass-produce one of her frozen food items. As you all may know, moin moin, the West African bean cake, is difficult to access because of its production. She has created a solution, the moin moin pouch that she sells separately. She also produces the food in-store. It is a short-term goal to mass-produce this food item for Nigerians and others who enjoy it.
NPM: Are all these foods already prepared and packaged, and all you need to do to take them home and heat them up?
NPM: Before we wrap up, is there anything else that you would like to share with the audience about Destiny African Market?
AJAO: Yes, the moin moin is in a custom foil package, preserving it a little better. The packaging is not plastic or anything. You can literally pour water on it or put it in a pot and warm it up. We also sell the pouches individually, so that people who want to make moimoi for significant events or for their families can. People will often have to make their little foil pouches or put them in little bowls, which can be inconvenient. Therefore, people do not make it as much. Now with the solution, people have been coming and buying these pouches to create and store their moin moin.
AJAO: We want people to come and check us out and visit us. We are also a community-oriented business. We are a business driven by the love of African food. We love the African people in the community. Therefore, we will be having some community events in the space. This month, and this year, we already had an event, a virtual Netflix Nollywood film watching. We got on a zoom call and watched a new Nollywood film with some of our customers. We will have a couple of jam sessions in the store on our off-days because we are open every day except for Sundays. We also collaborated with one of the only African card games created within Massachusetts, called Sawa Trivia. The game is now available for purchase at Destiny. We not only promote food; we want people to have a safe space to go and learn about African culture.
NPM: We look forward to checking you guys out and working with you as you grow. We hope that NPM will be a part of that success story.
AJAO: Thank you so much for having me. Please be sure to follow us @destinyafricanmarke