For many people, food memories shape a person’s life and are a core part of the decisions they make, especially if they enter the food industry. Case in point, Sola Ajao—caterer, entrepreneur and community builder —is the 20-year-veteran chef who loves bringing people together.
Food is more than how it nourishes a person, but the memories and sense of community it fosters when people come together. That is how you’d define the culinary career Ajao has built for herself as a caterer and now owner of Destiny African Market.
“When I arrived in the U.S. in 1985, there weren’t any African markets around. At that time, I started catering from my home.” Ajao saw the need and filled it.
Building Community Through Food
When cooking is your love language, you build a community around it. That’s exactly what Ajao did at the height of the pandemic. Equipped with her culinary expertise as a caterer and her love for people, food has been at the center of her life since she was a kid.
The Nigeria native’s love for cooking began with her mother teaching her how to cook as a child. “Cooking is my life. It is my love language. I’ve been cooking since the age of nine-years-old. My mom raised me to cook because I loved it. Since then, I’ve had a passion for cooking.”
When asked what her top two favorite foods are, she mentions widely known Nigerian dishes. “Jollof rice and egusi with fufu [laughs]. Those are my two favorite dishes,” Ajao shares.
Customers from surrounding cities and towns can also purchase the caterer’s food brand of ready-made Moin Moin, a West African bean cake. The ambitious culinary entrepreneur has her eyes set on making sure Destiny African Market is a place where guests can experience the joy of community and connecting with one’s culture through food.
In addition, Ajao, with the help of her family, hosts pop-up events to introduce the local community to the richness of African food.
The Launch of Destiny African Market
The road to opening Destiny African Market was not an easy one, Ajoa contracted COVID-19 and was subsequently hospitalized for two months. “As a survivor [of COVID], I was begging God, ‘If you let me out of this, I will serve you and will open this store.’”
The brick-and-mortar location was newly built in Randolph, Massachusetts, just south of the city of Boston. “We met with the landlord and we got approval for the space. I did not have a lot of money, but with the help of my family and friends it was successful. God is good. God gave us this name for the store. Nothing is ever too late. That’s what the name of the store means,” Ajao shares.
She was inspired to launch Destiny African Market in Randolph because there was not a market in the area. She also shares that her catering business saw fewer and fewer orders due to the pandemic. “I opened the store at the height of the pandemic in November 2021. People love the space. It is different from a typical African market because they can be [overcrowded] with only African food, but we serve a variety of food and products from Haiti, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal and Mexico.”
The entrepreneur, with the help of her family, welcomes customers to their store where they buy products like dried fish, crayfish, or garri, a flour made from cassava root common in West Africa. Some customers come to pass the time and chat with Ajao.
There’s also vibrant artwork decorating the walls of the market, beauty products and internationally sourced food items from Ajao’s distributors.
Hard Work Pays Off
Ajao’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. During the grand opening of Destiny African Market, she was surprised with an award highlighting her 20 years of service as a caterer in the state. “I can’t really express it. We have made a lot of progress since we’ve opened. It has been so wonderful. I am overjoyed. The Massachusetts State Senate recognized the impact of my work as a caterer for the past 20 years, and surprised me at the grand opening of Destiny African Market with an award of citation by our state senator and local officials.”
The dedication in launching Destiny African Market was also recognized as an outstanding business in Google’s Economic Impact Report. As a business owner, Ajoa was invited to attend a prestigious business summit to represent small businesses in Massachusetts on Capitol Hill.
When asked what’s next for Destiny African Market, Ajao shares the plan is to continue to provide a taste of home for her clients and maintain a sense of community. She also encourages other brands to bring their products to her store. “I give shelf space to five small business owners in the African community to sell their items. I do not receive profit for that.”
Contributing to the economic success of her peers is something she plans to keep as a feature of the Destiny African Market brand. As she looks ahead to the future she plans to build at Destiny African Market, she shares her personal mantra for success. “Do not give up. If you set your mind on doing something, just don’t give up.”
Stop by Destiny African Market at 502 South Main Street in Randolph or shop online at https://www.destinyafricanmarket.com/. You can also follow Ajao and the market on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.