Flavor of Africa: Family opens market aimed to serve Dickinson’s growing African population
It might not be typical for a person to enter a grocery store and start jumping up and down, cheering, raising arms up, and not wanting to leave — but it happens in Dickinson.
“Sometimes they don’t want to go home,” said Koduah Owusu-Nasah of Dickinson, a witness to such behavior.
The store that creates such emotion: Amma’s African & Caribbean Market, which opened in March in south Dickinson.
“It’s the only African store we have … and there are a lot of African people here,” said 42-year-old Frank Agyei, a regular customer from Ghana who moved to Dickinson three years ago. “It’s a big, big relief.”
A taste from homeAfricans interviewed by The Press said they have found people in North Dakota to be really friendly and welcoming, that people say “hi” to everyone. But the Africans have also left their cultures and countries far behind — and so to have a taste of home is precious.
Amma Frimpong, a primary school teacher in her home country of Ghana, now a Dickinson resident and co-owner of the store with a daughter, said that when they moved here in 2013 people were “extremely nice, wonderful.”
But there was no African food, she added.
“Africans like their food,” she said with a laugh.
Amma’s has mainly staples, because Africans primarily cook from scratch and don’t use processed foods, she said.
So Amma’s has ingredients for such things as traditional peanut butter soup; fried plantains with red bean sauce; goat meat stew and fufu, a sort of dumpling eaten with soups; and shito, a dipping sauce made with various spices, tomatoes and powdered fish.
The store has such things as boxes of fresh plantains, African yams, natural peanut butter, palm oil and fufu flour made from plantains — a product also popular in Mexico, Korea, the Caribbean and other countries.
Also on the shelves are sardines, a well-known African hot chocolate mix and snack-sized bags of popular plantain chips — like potato chips only sweeter and crunchier — that the store sells about 500 bags of every three weeks.
There are hand-sewn Ghana shirts, sandals and popular cosmetic products, and the commonly used African sponge, a large mesh sheet used for defoliation.
Since there are Africans here from numerous countries in Africa — the store owners are from Ghana and so are only familiar with west African foods — customers from other regions can write down items they want on the store’s request list.
Another list the store keeps are names and contact information for customers who want to be called as soon as the new inventory comes in because they know the plantains, yams, goat meat and such are sold quickly.
Coming to North Dakota
Amma moved to the United States with her husband, Koduah Owusu-Nasah, who has a master’s degree in horticulture and now works for the City of Dickinson as a forester. The family moved to give their three children more education opportunities, they said.
They went to New York first, but eventually decided it wasn’t the best place to raise children. Then they lived in Denver, but the economy there was tough. They were told by a friend that North Dakota was a good place to live.
They soon realized there was a need here: Fargo had an international market with a few African products, but otherwise people had to go to Minneapolis or Chicago to get their favorite items.
Now, they don’t have to. Amma does — traveling to a Minneapolis supplier every few weeks to refresh supplies at the Dickinson store. The couple recently returned from such a trip at 2 a.m., back in time to attend Seventh Day Adventist Church services, and then were back at the store unpacking boxes while customers already were coming in to buy food out of the boxes.
Currently, the couple has two daughters are in college. The third daughter, Yvonne Owusu-Nasah, graduated from college in Virginia. In addition to working for a local Dickinson hotel, Yvonne pooled her money with her mom’s and is now co-owner of Amma’s African & Caribbean Market.
A hidden jewel
The family estimates there are about 2,000 Africans in the area now, from countries all over Africa, and that about 80 percent are now customers at Amma’s. They said Hispanics in the area are also customers, buying such things as cornmeal and spices. And they have customers from many other cultural backgrounds.
Amma said, since moving to the U.S., she has worked in several fields. She has baking and sewing skills, and has worked as a housekeeper and certified nursing assistant.
But after moving to Dickinson, she thought about starting a business. She began by selling some African products from her home.
When they decided to open a real store with regular hours, her husband started driving around looking for available space and found some in a red-brick building on First Street South — just southwest of the Ukrainian Cultural Institute. Yvonne said the goal for their stores is to get bigger and become an international market offering products of many cultures.
Some neighborly North Dakotans have already been around.
Melvin Pirkl, owner of the nearby Superior Laundry Cleaners, said when he saw them first moving into the building, he came over to introduce himself. And now, periodically, he comes over there just to chat.
Recently he ate. Amma had some peanut butter soup to try. She said he called some other friends to come over and their reaction was that they were wowed, loved it.
“They said, ‘I can’t believe it,’” she said, about how wonderful they thought it tasted.