A Saint John startup is looking to bring traditional international cuisine to people’s doors every week while providing immigrants and newcomers with a source of income.
Sankara Cuisine is an online ordering service that allows people to order traditional international cuisine made by local immigrants and newcomers from the area. Users simply choose from the different menu options online from Monday to Friday. Food is prepared over the weekend and delivered to customers on Sunday.
The business got its start when founders Lily Lynch and Chinweotito Atansi started selling their traditional African cuisine at Saint John’s Queen Square Farmer’s Market last summer.
“We went there just to see how the community would react to our food. Our food is Nigerian cuisine and Cameroonian cuisine from West and Central Africa,” says Lynch. “We wanted to see if people would react positively if they’d like the food, what feedback they would have and we wanted to create a business venture out of that.”
But they soon realized there was a market for other locally made, international cuisine, so they decided to create an online platform that would allow immigrants and newcomers to sell their dishes.
“Now we’re an online platform and we offer to all types of immigrants and newcomers because we wanted to address the hurdles we faced with trying to get licenses and trying to register our business and all those things that us coming from an English background, we had difficulty with,” says Lynch. “If other immigrants who aren’t having success with the job market need a job, they have their traditional cuisine to offer to the community.”
Sankara Cuisine currently offers dishes by five different vendors from places like India, Nigeria and Iran. All the food is prepared and made in licensed kitchens throughout the city.
“We offer this Geo-kitchen map for the vendors to know which kitchen is in their location that’s a licensed kitchen that would be suitable for them to cook in,” says Lynch.
“We have had a few kitchens that have participated so far and they’ve been very generous in doing so. We offer vendors a few kitchens in the city and hopefully, we’ll offer more in the future, if not our own.”
Lynch says most of the vendors use Sankara as an additional source of income. Often, immigrants and newcomers struggle with both financial security and connecting with their new community. Helping with this is a big part of Sankara Cuisine’s mission.
“Sankara Cuisine right now is used as a crutch to be able to serve food, integrate into the community and try to make their livelihood. Because when some of these families come here, it’s through a skilled worker program or a [permanent resident] program and maybe their whole family immigrates here and maybe one member of the family doesn’t have an opportunity to work,” says Lynch. “They can be engaged through Sankara Cuisine. It keeps the family engaged and keeps them proud of their culture.
“We’re not a melting pot here, we’re a mosaic of different cultures so we’re trying to support the vendors and offer them a venue to show their cultural cuisine and integrate into the community, even if they can’t speak English too well for now or if they don’t have a job that’s paying them a sufficient amount for their families, it’s just to support them.”
Sankara is also planning to host local events showcasing international cuisine. The first one is taking place Aug 26 at the Five and Dime in uptown Saint John, right before the city’s first ever night market. The event will feature cuisine, live performances and drinks inspired by Nigeria and Cameroon.
“Since we started as an African food idea, we’re going to have our first African event. The event is with Nigerian and Cameroonian cuisines,” says Lynch. “There’s going to be live music, live African dance performance and food sampling. To get people engaged with different foods and flavours that are offered from the Nigerian and Cameroonian traditions, the event will be really good exposure of those cuisines and just a nice way to cap off the summer.”
Though Sankara Cuisine is only local to Saint John, the long term goal is to expand into Fredericton, Moncton and Bathurst and establish a kitchen of their own.
“Because in each community here there’s been an overwhelming amount of people who’ve decided to settle in New Brunswick and there’s a reason for that. It’s because people are open to their cultures and just need an entryway,” says Lynch. “We hope Sankara Cusine for clients can be a way to experience another culture and realize what happens in their neighbour’s kitchen.”