One of the NC IDEA MICRO grant winners is a chemist and mom of two hoping to grow her Queen’s Jollof Sauce empire.
Abena Antwi, an immigrant from Ghana, has been in the United States for 30 years. A chemist by trade, she’s always enjoyed mixing things together and coming up with new cosmetic creations, whether for Burt’s Bee’s or Loreal.
And even though her family did not have a lot of money growing up, Antwi said she always loved to cook. They didn’t have a lot, but she said they always made it happen when it came to food.
So it’s fitting that Antwi has launched her own creative food products in the form of Apex-based Ashanti Styles.
It all began when during the pandemic, Antwi was growing tomatoes in her backyard and decided to use them in a recipe from her grandmother. The recipe was for Jollof rice, a West African side dish known to accompany special occasions like birthdays.
It was such a hit amongst friends that Antwi decided to bring it into farmers’ markets in early 2021 and eventually into Apex’s ELK Local Foods and Durham’s Bulldega Urban Market and on its website. Ashanti Styles also participated in the LaunchAPEX accelerator.
Ashanti Styles sells to around 100 people weekly at farmers markets. The flagship product, Queen’s Jollof Sauce, is full of tomatoes, vegetables and herbs slow roasted in olive oil for hours, producing a flavorful complement to construct many delicious meals.
Meanwhile, the Queen’s Honey Jerk Barbecue Sauce captures the authentic taste of jerk seasoning in a rich barbecue sauce that is versatile and easy to use. It adds a spicy Caribbean flavor to meat, seafood and vegetables.
The startup also offers a Shito Hot Sauce.
There’s no one demographic that’s been drawn to the flavor of Ashanti Styles’ jollof sauce; it’s been a hit with many different groups. Once Antwi begins her cooking demo and the jollof smell hits the markets, people of all races—from those who are cooking enthusiasts to those just looking for an easy meal—are brought together, Antwi said.
With the $10,000 MICRO grant from NC IDEA, Antwi sees tremendous growth potential for Ashanti Styles as she works on getting the sauces into more local retailers and securing a co-packer instead of making all of the products herself. Antwi also wants to improve upon the product labeling and invest in marketing.
“There is a lot of potential and a lot of growth, and I know the grant is going to help tremendously with some of the pain of being a one-man show,” Antwi said. “This is a side hustle that’s becoming a big fulltime job.”
Meeting production demand is becoming more challenging, but with customer feedback so positive, this is a good problem for a growing company to have.
Launched in the middle of the pandemic, Ashanti Styles has capitalized on the desire of many consumers to cook more at home.
“Consumer purchasing has changed,” Antwi said. “I think they just want something that they know who makes it, like a real farmers market. It’s not something that you can just pick up from the grocery store. So the uniqueness of the product, I think consumers are looking for that.”
The West African Jollof sauce is also a healthy option, especially for customers who want to buy local.
“My hope is to get people to really try the African flavor, bringing the flavor of Africa to the world in a way that we don’t see a lot of in the market right now,” Antwi said. “We are creating a healthy, time-effective, and very versatile sauce that anybody can use.”