As a former Christian bookstore chain executive, Craig Klamer was used to trading in books, CDs, and spiritually-themed home décor, so he had never considered the best way to locally source a goat—until now. But that’s one of his intriguing challenges as a PW Business Affiliate mentor for Patient Baraka, an African market owner in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Klamer has been working alongside Baraka, owner of Grand Rapids African Market and Store, since Baraka opened in November of 2014.
The store employs three, Baraka, his wife, and daughter, and sells goat meat, including whole heads for use in African soups, lamb, cow skin, banana plantains, sweet potato leaves, and cassava, a starchy tuber and major staple food in the developing world.
“Being able to take knowledge and experiences from a 36-year career in retailing, and to see small ideas turn into big steps forward is thrilling,” Klamer said.
Baraka, whose mother named him “Patient” because she was two weeks overdue with him, took a 10-week entrepreneurship class through PW’s local partner Restorers. Baraka passionate two-minute business pitch won “best pitch” on the last night of classes.
“The purpose of my store is one-stop shopping,” he said. “People can come and speak their own language, and celebrate our culture, our diversity. When we meet, we talk about the issues facing Africa: genocide, war in Congo, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ebola in Liberia. You need to be able to find your own people to give you that space.”
Besides ethnic foods and African apparel and accessories, the market has become a hub for the African community to gather and solve problems. Baraka’s background is in social work, and his vision for the market is to expand its services to offer legal and social guidance for refugees and immigrants.
“It’s clear, as customers come in to shop, that Patient is also providing a sense of community,” Klamer said. “The average length of time spent by a customer in the store might be up to 30 minutes, which is amazing for this very small store with limited inventory. Customers stand and talk with Patient in their own language, and their baskets end up being full. This is a place for advice, encouragement, and friendship.”
Klamer picked up where the entrepreneurship class left off, boosting Baraka’s spirits with encouragement for what he’s doing well.
“Patient, himself a refugee from the Congo, has great love for the people from African who are resettling here in West Michigan,” said Klamer. “He knows Swahili, he knows their need for the foods and goods they are accustomed to, and as a social worker he also understands the pressures and challenges they have in re-settling in the U.S.”
Klamer has also helped Baraka hone in on areas for improvement. One of his tasks is to differentiate his business from the well-stocked, six-year-old African market down the street. Improved lighting and store experience is also a hurdle, as is finding economical ways of marketing to his target customers in the local African community.
And then there’s the matter of the goats. Baraka had been driving to Chicago for goat meat, a time and money expenditure for him. Klamer explored local meat sources with him, including a nearby goat farmer. He plans to now source his goats locally.
Armed with knowledge gained in business training classes, and supported by Klamer’s mentorship, Baraka hopes to overcome his challenges and become a role model in the community. He dreams of his market being a place that shows newcomers from around the world that they too can take root and thrive, building a sustainable business in America.
“I have excitement about my business,” Baraka said. “I believe in it.”
By a team of collaborators lead by Rudy Carrasco of Partners Worldwide