Entrepreneur brings her culture to her businesses

Business NH Magazine
Published: 4/2/2022 1:01:06 PM
Modified: 4/2/2022 1:00:02 PM

Born and raised in Cameroon, LaFortune Jeannette Djabea came to the United States to pursue a career in health care. Eventually, she decided to become an entrepreneur and now owns several ventures that celebrate the culinary flavors of various African nations. Her newest releases are a meal plan aimed at helping people to lose weight and a line of natural drinks.

Djabea founded Mola Foods in 2016 and describes her food, which includes seasonings, snacks, marinades, sauces and chili relishes, as “a fusion of African and European cuisine.”

Djabea fell in love with cooking at age 11 when she became a special taste tester for her Aunt Berthe. Even then, she would make snacks to sell at school to pay for the long taxi drive between home and school.

In 2000, Djabea moved to the U.S. with her two young children at 22 to attend school in Atlanta, Ga. Then her mother, living in Cameroon, lost her job and told Djabea she needed to take in her two brothers, a teen and tween.

She took the boys in and managed to do it all while also running a nonprofit program aimed at educating children about health. When she landed a job in Massachusetts, she decided to move to NH where housing was more affordable.

Djabea often cooked traditional Cameroon dishes for friends and coworkers, and one friend urged her to start a chili sauce company featuring Cameroonian recipes. “I said, ‘No, that’s crazy. I cook for my family. I don’t cook for anybody else’,” she recalls saying. “Eventually, I woke up and said why not?”

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Djabea began selling spices and condiments at local farmers markets. “People started loving it,” she says, and she felt inspired. “What if we sold culture in a bottle and created a flavor profile for each country?”

Her products are now available in 20 stores, mostly specialty food stores but also in Hannaford.

She leased a space in Nashua just before the pandemic hit, which caused her to pause. After soul searching, she decided to move forward anyway.

“It will be difficult, but I will do it no matter how I have to bend or whatever I have to do to not give up,” she says. Mola Foods opened in its physical space in February 2021. This past December, Mola Foods launched a weight-loss meal plan. Developed by Djabea, the support system includes a tailored meal plan and weekly 30-minute sessions with health coach, Chef Tiffany Lewis.

The program includes 14 meals weekly, such as Poulet Yassa, which is marinated chicken cooked in a Senegalese spice blend, with onions, cilantro, and olives.

Through Mola Foods, Djabea wants to provide healthy foods without customers needing a plethora of ingredients and “to combat the stigma on African food and culture.”

“If I can open people’s minds to African taste through my meal plans and products, I believe I can encourage people to reconsider African culture,” she says.

For more information, visit molafoods.com.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.




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