Meet Chef Bintou N’daw of Nafi’s Hot Pepper Condiments. Bintou, a caterer and food consultant, took over Nafi’s from her mother, Nafi. Nafi created the line of West African peanut sauces to fill a market need for African-influenced products in New York City. Nafi’s catering and in-store sales have slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of our Voices From The Field series, we spoke with Bintou about how she is doing.
What is the story behind Nafi’s Hot Pepper Condiments and Sauces?
I took over this company from my mother—she was actually one of the first producers to join Hot Bread Kitchen’s Incubator Program. I am a professional cook and I have always worked in restaurants, and now I have my own catering company. I always supported my mom in this business.
Three years ago I took over the business from my mother, but I have a hard time juggling my life and the business. This year I made the decision to combine Nafi’s with my catering business and expand the product line. I’m trying to get everything sorted out and trying to understand the systems of sales and marketing.
Tell me more the products you make.
The company is named after my grandma, named Nafissatou. We make an African peanut sauce which is a staple ingredient in West Africa. In America, we never saw it in stores so we decided to bottle it. There are no preservatives, it’s vegan and gluten free, it has all the things people are looking for.
We started selling at local outdoor markets and then Whole Foods purchased our products in six stores. We were one of the first African-influenced products in Whole Foods—it was perfect for people to learn about African food through our products.
That is amazing to hear that Nafi’s was one the first African-influenced products to hit the mainstream market.
Yes! I actually know Chef Pierre Thiam (of Teranga, Yolele Foods, and one of the first Hot Bread Kitchen Incubator Members) from way back. I was a server at his first restaurant in Brooklyn. We are still friendly.
What grants have you been applying to? What is that experience like?
I have not applied to any of the PPP loans because I run the business by myself. I received the emergency stipend from Hot Bread Kitchen and that really helped me cover my rent and buy ingredients. Because of the stipend, I have started producing again and Whole Foods was able to take more inventory.
How else are you able to sell your products right now?
Right now, I am trying to learn how to to do online sales. I am looking at all my marketing, taking new product photos for these online shops, and writing more recipes on how to use the peanut sauces. I’m also taking this time to work on the business plan.
What is it like to be an entrepreneur right now?
We have to be more creative and be more sensitive right now. It’s a hard balance of trying to not to bother people to buy my product when so many people are going through hardship. It’s not the time to be all business—you want to be brave and bold but there isn’t a financial guarantee. We are looking how things will go forward and trying to adapt to the movement to whatever is happening.
Through Feed the Recovery, Hot Bread Kitchen is helping our incubator businesses build a bridge to economic stability.