AFRICAN DREAM

Skills: tenant development; lease and license negotiation; business coaching and development; marketing and promotion; budget; leadership/mentorship. 

About this Project

Neba Ngwa and Stella Musongong had a dream that was bigger than cuisine, but first they had to get a taste of the risks and rewards of small business ownership.

As first-time entrepreneurs, the husband and wife team were eager to start bringing their West African culture to Kansas. Unfamiliar with owning a business in the United States, they received critical coaching and development working with Carmen. 

“Carmen is a builder. She can build it if you can just explain it. She doesn’t want to take your originality away from it, she wants to help bring it alive to the public. She’s good at getting a vision, and helping you move to the next stage,” says Neba, who was a salesperson for Coca-Cola before quitting during the pandemic to focus on African Dream Cuisine.

“She’s open minded to other cultures. She’s not limited. She’s not biased. She brings people together,” says Stella, who works as a nurse.

The couple started out with a food pop-up in 2019 and moved into a tenant space in 2021. 

“Carmen made us do the pop-up to understand how to start a business,” Neba says. “It was on-the-job training, and a good thing. Carmen was molding us and getting us prepared. Before we would dive into something, she would ask all the questions.”

The couple knew they wanted to eventually include extensions of culture, such as fashion, to their food concept, so Carmen initially helped them choose a name that would be all-encompassing and allow them to grow. 

Carmen also made suggestions for marketing and promotion. Although Neba was skeptical about her urging to open on Mondays, it has become their best sales day of the week.

After a year of watching his numbers, Neba says they hired their first employee. And, the addition of breakfast, another Carmen suggestion, is also going well. 

The couple says having a business mentor to help explain health, building and tax codes was critical to their success, and Carmen’s leadership has inspired Neba to emulate her style since her departure from the market.

“Being a good leader is kind of like walking on eggshells. In conversations, it’s trying to find that common ground. In this space, you can’t have it all your way,” he says. “Walking with Carmen and seeing how other tenants from Mexico, Pakistan, Taiwan, and small businesses from here all have different perspectives, I’ve learned we all can’t always have our own way. I’ve learned the market works best if everybody gets a piece of the cake.”

Stella points to the new storefront, which started as a cart, now a sturdy booth with rustic wood planking and cut-outs for the clay vessels. There’s also a glass cabinet displaying African-made jewelry.

 “There are no words that can adequately describe Carmen,” Stella says. “She is our godmother. We tell her that, but I don’t think we tell her enough.”

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