‘It feels like I’m home’: Wandebo African Store in St. John’s servicing new Canadians and curious locals

By Andrew Waterman | Saltwire

As a boy growing up in Nigeria, Olusola Adeyemi dreamed of one day owning a store.

But he never imagined it would be on Ropewalk Lane.

“I’ve tried so many businesses, but this idea came in 2020,” he said.

Olusola, his wife, Bolanle, and their five children were living in Toronto when the government-mandated closure of businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic left him without work.

The kind of person who likes to keep busy, Olusola sent out a document to friends and family that listed popular food products from Africa. He told them he would order and deliver what they wanted.

That document made the rounds on social media, and before long, they went from weekly deliveries to delivering three times a week, he said.

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Move to N.L.

After hearing about a Newfoundland and Labrador immigration program that he and his family qualified for, he moved to St. John’s.

By the time the entire family arrived in November 2020, they found out the program had been cancelled.

In a new province with five children, that was a difficult thing to come to terms with, Bolanle said.

“Along the way … we discovered Newfoundland is a place to be, a lovely home, especially for the younger ones,” she said. “It’s a nice place to raise your children.”

“… we discovered Newfoundland is a place to be, a lovely home, especially for the younger ones. It’s a nice place to raise your children.”
— Bolanle Adeyemi

So, the Adeyemis turned their misfortune into opportunity and decided to continue what they started in Toronto.

Before opening the Wandebo African Store in January 2022, they shipped in products from suppliers in Toronto, stored them in a small shed and took orders online.

“When we started, I tried to associate myself with my community, my Nigerian community,” Olusola said. “And the response has been so fantastic.”

Products like casava flour, pounded yam and ingredients used in traditional egusi soup, like red palm oil, dried fish and melon seed, have turned many into regular customers.

That includes people like Israel Aderanti, a master’s student at Memorial University studying oil and gas engineering, who arrived from Nigeria in July 2021.

‘It feels like home’

“I searched for a Nigerian food store on Facebook long before I got to Canada,” he said. “Honestly, it’s meant everything. It’s meant the world.”

Not having to pay extra shipping for his favourite products is great, but more than anything, it brings him closer to home, he said.

“It has helped me personally as a newcomer into Canada. I was able to settle seamlessly without having to worry about, ‘Oh, what am I going to do? Do I have to adopt the Canadian food culture?’” he said. “Once you step into the store, you sort of feel you are in a Nigerian market. … It feels like I’m home.”

Plans to expand

Since opening, not only have they served people from Nigeria, but from other West African countries like Ghana and Cameroon.

And they often get curious Canadians as well.

“Even if they don’t know how to make any kind of Nigerian food, I always tell them, I give them some recipes, because I just want them to try and have a taste of African food,” Bolanle said.

They hope they can expand the store in the future, so they can begin sourcing products typical of East African countries like Sudan, as well as products from the Middle East.

Olusola has his sights set on Corner Brook, too.

“You have a lot of international students there,” Olusola said. “We’ve been trying to ship stuff to them. So, we will be going there maybe next week to do a survey of the area … to (find out) if we can add a little branch right there.”

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