Makena Tarichia-Ambassa receives $25,000 in startup funding for her catering company, Out Of Africa
By Logan MacLean | Saltwire
Makena Tarichia-Ambassa’s cooking career started with a choice.Growing up on a coffee farm in Mikinduri, Kenya, she and her 10 siblings often had chores. Cooking, cleaning and tending the animals all had to be done — so did fertilizing the crops with maggot-filled manure.
So, at about seven years old, she learned to cook. But she didn’t fall in love with it until she got married. That’s when she met her mother-in-law, Lois Kimbui, who inspired Tarichia-Ambassa and encouraged her to pursue culinary school.
Since that time, Tarichia-Ambassa has been sharing that love of cooking with the world and Prince Edward Island.
Now, she’s getting some help with reaching more of the province.
Tarichia-Ambassa recently received $25,000 from the Food Island Partnership’s Food Xcel startup program for her catering company, Out Of Africa.
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“We’ve been doing this (competition) since January, and finally we got to the finalists,” she said. “On Thursday, I did the pitch and I won the award, and that’s $25,000. So, I’m really excited. Not only that, but I also won a lot of friends. I got to meet a lot of people there.”
Tarichia-Ambassa’s plans to use the funds to engage a consultant to help with a shelf life for the samosas she supplies to local cafés, along with beefing up the company’s equipment.
“We are growing and we need bigger freezers. We need stoves. We need dough mixers. There’s a lot we need.”
Out of Africa
When Tarichia-Ambassa was in her 20s, she left Mikinduri to attend culinary school at Kenya Polytechnic in Nairobi. She then took business administration at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Ga. She also lived in New York and Montreal before coming to P.E.I.
Despite the series of culture shocks — the biggest when she arrived in P.E.I. — Tarichia-Ambassa has carried her home culture with her.
“That’s the dream,” she said. “We are here; we are adapting to the cultures of here. We grow to love it. We love it, but who knows about our cultures unless we bring it to them, right? So that’s what I’m hoping and praying, (that) we can bring that more and more and people really get to know us for who we are.”
In an interview near the end of Black History Month, Tarichia-Ambassa spoke with SaltWire Network about the misconceptions around Kenya and Africa more broadly.
“When a lot of people think of Africa, they think poverty. They think no education. They think backwards people. They think poverty, needy. It all comes out negative, but that’s not true.”
If she were to give someone a tour of Kenya, she could show them shocking riches and lavish lifestyles one can’t find anywhere in P.E.I., she said.
“So, you find a very rich part of Kenya. But then I can take you to villages where you will be bawling out (your eyes). You will be crying because there will be kids there who are struggling, suffering, they haven’t eaten and sickly.”
The reality is complicated, but the media concentrates just on poverty, she said.
One big family
In speaking about her family, Tarichia-Ambassa noted family doesn’t just mean close relatives to her.
“When I say family is everything to me, it’s not ‘my children.’ For me, it’s pretty much the entire community,” she said. “I don’t like the way people think family is just your children.”
However, she did specifically mention her blood-related sister, Sabina Gitiy.
Gitiy, who SaltWire has written about in the past, also has a food business in Charlottetown, The Samosa Lady.
“I’m very proud of my sister,” Tarichia-Ambassa said. “That girl has done a lot. She’s doing great here.”
Another person Tarichia-Ambassa spoke highly of was Tyson MacInnis, the director of company development at Food Island Partnership.
Tarichia-Ambassa’s passion made her stand out in the Xcel program, MacInnis said.
“She has a great following for her product already, here locally. … Our judging panel, on the final pitch day, they were all just amazed at the amount of passion she has. She has a real enterprise that’s also looking to support her community.”Tyson MacInnis is the director of company development at Food Island Partnership. – Logan MacLean
A pitch competition was the final stage of Xcel, but entrants first took part in a series of workshops during January and February.
“We had a workshop on developing your unique selling proposition — ‘How are you different from the competition?’ We had another one on branding and telling your unique story of your product and your brand. Another one where we brought in an expert who has been in five or six businesses himself.”
MacInnis said a key element of the program is networking.
“Being an entrepreneur of any type can be a very lonely process, and quite often, everyone has their own strengths and has figured out different parts of the puzzle of how to move forward.”
While Tarichia-Ambassa found these social and professional benefits, her business, at least, isn’t lonely.
“God chose the best for me,” she said about coming to P.E.I. “Where you love people and feel loved back – that’s how I feel here.”