Hungry for home, Nana, an immigrant from Ghana, recreates the flavors of Africa in Cleveland
It was natural that Nana Kwamena Takyi-Micah felt homesick that first year at Hiram College. He missed his family, 5,000 miles away in the African nation of Ghana. He also very much missed the food. That was his motivation to improvise.
Unable to find African flavors at the grocery store, or Walmart, Takyi-Micah created his own. He stirred up a sauce in a friend’s kitchen using his mother’s recipe and began sharing samples around campus, then bottling it for stores.
Today, Takyi-Micah’s tangy “Supreme Sauce” –a marinade made from tomatoes, onions and habanero peppers–is found in about 40 supermarkets, butcher shops and specialty stores across Northeast Ohio. He’s just getting started.
The soft-spoken 27 year old is about to launch a crowdfunding campaign to develop additional African-style food products, for his business, Micah Specialty Foods. His goal, he says confidently, is to dominate the African section of the specialty foods market–once he builds it.
He thinks Cleveland is the ideal place to pursue his dream.
“The spirit of Clevelanders is very similar to Ghanaians. Their attitude is defined by grit and a strong work ethic,” he says. “Cleveland is a city that hustles.”
It’s remarkable that Takyi-Micah ever became a Clevelander. He had sent his college application to Hampton University in Virginia, via an overnight delivery service that mistakenly delivered it to Hiram College in Geauga County.
Soon after, he said, he got a call from a Hiram admissions counselor impressed with his SAT scores.
“They asked me to apply. I did some research on Hiram, on Ohio, on Cleveland, and I thought there was a lot of opportunity,” he said. Plus, he thought he would have an easier time adjusting to Hiram’s small-town atmosphere.
His instincts were prescient. Takyi-Micah graduated cum laude in 2014 with a degree in business management and a minor in entrepreneurship. He had met his wife, Natasha, and gained early success in an industry notoriously difficult to break into.
An entrepreneurial upbringing likely helped. Dad is a lawyer in the Ghanaian capital of Accra but his parents also run a picture framing shop.
“I was always that kid who saved his pennies to own a business one day,” Takyi-Micah. “It’s how I grew up.”
He also found help in Cleveland’s startup community. Through Hiram’s entrepreneurship program, he made friends with people like Ethan Holmes, creator of Holmes Mouthwatering Applesauce, which is also sold in stores throughout the region.
The Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen allowed him to create small batches of his sauce for marketing, then connected him to a manufacturer who now bottles and ships the product.
Takyi-Micah still does much of the selling himself, dropping in on stores with samples and setting up tables at farmers markets. But he thinks it’s time to take the business to the next level. He’s hoping to raise $20,000 though an Indiegogo campaign to expand the selection of Supreme Sauces, from mild to African hot. He also plans to add plantain chips to the menu.
“In Ghana, plantains are what potatoes are to the U.S.” he said. “We want to be more than a sauce company.”
The “we” in the equation is Natasha. She handles the marketing while pursuing her master’s degree in public health. The couple rents its apartment in Shaker Square but America is looking permanent for Takyi-Micah. In August, he obtained his green card, becoming a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States.
If Cleveland becomes a center of African specialty foods, the city might one day be thanking an international student who never forgot the flavors of home.
Our Immigrant Business series
Immigrants punch above their weight as entrepreneurs and job creators. They are nearly twice as likely as native-born Americans to launch a business. Immigrants are also more likely to be awarded a U.S. patent. While we cheer their hustle and success, we also want to learn from it. So we are running a series of stories examining immigrant businesses and the founders who launched them.