Can you share a little bit about your business?
The Inkster African & Caribbean Market opened in 2013. We cater to everybody, but we offer specialized items for the African and Caribbean communities in Inkster. We’ve grown to serve Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties, as well as those who travel from Ohio and Canada. When our customers come into the market, they are able to get what they eat back home, and they are able to see their culture and embrace it. Prior to opening the business, there was no market in the Western Wayne area specializing in items specific to the African or Caribbean communities. So most times people would travel all the way to Oak Park or to different states to get their products. I always say it's important to understand the people that you are serving and to carry what they eat because if you don't eat what you are born to eat, it looks as if you are not feeding yourself right? So I say that culture is in the people, not in the land. People from Africa and from the Caribbean, living in the United States, crave for their food because that's their culture. That's what inspired me to start the business so that I can serve these communities of people who may not be able to get their food in Walmart or in a regular grocery store like Kroger.
What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the Inkster
I always tell people inside of me there’s a business. Inside of everybody there is something they are born to give to the generation we are born into, but it took time for me to be able to discover the kind of business that I was born to do. Sometimes people will start a business and it doesn’t succeed. It’s not that the business is not good, but sometimes it is because they are out of place. For example, you have to put a round peg in a round hole. You can’t put a round peg in a square hole. And until we realize this, success is always far from people. So when I came to America, I came with a Visa lottery in 2001, and I found myself walking in an adult foster care home where I took care of people with mental illnesses, which I enjoyed. I bought my first house in Inkster in 2003, and I started to see that Inkster is where I'm called to establish things. I had about three buildings in Inkster plus the African market. So one thing I always tell people is to discover what you are born to be, and where you are called to serve. I know that people go from place to place trying to establish business, but I saw Inkster as a place where I've been called to serve the community.
How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business?
When I was working at the adult foster care home, I was saving money. And then I started selling ice cream on the street during the summertime. In the afternoon, after work, I would go sell ice cream, and I was saving money because I knew that I wasn't born to work for somebody, but I was born to be an entrepreneur. So in 2005, I left my job at the adult foster care home, and I started my own adult foster care home in Inkster. And now I have three adult foster care homes. But as the business grew, in 2008, things started to fall apart because of the recession. After traveling to Atlanta, I began to ask myself, “What else can I do? What other business can I do?” And that's when I got the inspiration of starting an African and Caribbean market. So I used all my savings to start the market. I did not have an opportunity to get a loan from anywhere. It all came from savings.
What are your current business goals?
Right now we want to make the market a one-stop shopping experience. It has been in our mind and in our heart to expand the building, but in 2019, the building burned down, and they were not able to renovate until 2022 because of COVID, so it delayed the construction of the building. Mayor Patrick actually played a big part in helping us rebuild our business. We reopened in 2022, and now that we’re back in business, we want to make it a one-stop shopping experience. We're going to have a carryout restaurant where people can place their orders, and we deliver it, or they can come pick it up from the market. We also want to expand the products we offer, so whenever a customer comes into the market, they will be able to find whatever they want or need without having to shop around.
What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?
I tried looking into some resources for capital, but some of them required tax returns for two years, and we only had one, so that was a roadblock for us. But we’re still hoping to find a resource for funding to help us achieve our goal.
If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?
We would need financial support. It may be a loan that we pay back with time. The business is doing well, so we cannot hold back on receiving a loan because the business will be able to pay it back.
Fill in the blank: ____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why.
GABA (Global African Business Association
) has been a good resource for the business. Akindele has shared it on Facebook and in his WhatsApp group, and made it known that he would like the business to grow, especially when we started. He also sent our flyers to many places, and he told many places about our business, so he and GABA have been a good resource for our business.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business?
The biggest challenge has been starting. In a way, when you start a new business, and it is not a popular business, it is hard to grow. So when we started, several of our products would expire because no one knew about the business, or to come shop at the market. But getting out of that phase, it becomes like a home run. Also the fear of the unknown. If I start this, am I going to make it? Is it going to be possible for people to support us? Fortunately, that’s not too much trouble in Inkster. And then financial support because I started a business with my savings, and as we are growing, I believe if we had some financial support, we will be able to become bigger than where we are right now, and serve more communities. We are also facing staffing challenges. It makes it difficult for us because we become worn out doing all the work with no staff. But, thank God, people are starting to apply for jobs at the market.
If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?
Depending on the kind of business and what they offer, I would tell them to talk to Akindele. If I know anyone that needs a resource which I know of, I'll freely introduce the person to them because one thing I believe is every one of us has work to do and nobody would do what I'm cut out to do. That means every individual has their own way, so whenever I see things that I need to help out in Inkster, I will surely do that.
What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?
We all agree that the city is a problem. We’re not exposed to funding, and when it comes to fixing your buildings or fixing your premises, most times they give you a hard time. Most people say they think every one of us is great, but we agree that the city needs to wake up if they want us to continue in the City of Inkster and if they want their businesses to grow here. And we know statistically zero funding comes to Inkster. Investors and lenders don't want to invest in Inkster, so it's really a problem. Sometimes when you go to apply for a loan, because of your address, they are not quick to consider you.