Mary Nkrumah grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her grandma sold kenkey, a corn-based traditional dish from southern Ghana. Her mother was a successful baker and fruit trader as well. In her adolescence, Nkrumah picked up entrepreneurship traits from these two women.
“All the children would like to come to my house to play because of the food,” Nkrumah recalled in an interview with Huddle. “When they come to my house, they can get bread. And we were always making fun stuff together.”
She started a rice stand in her teens and then built her own restaurant in Ghana named Oceanview Garden Restaurant. She later married Jonathan Roberts, a professor of West African history at Mount Saint Vincent. Nkrumah moved to Canada to be with him.
Nkrumah’s desire, prior to moving to Canada, was to have her own restaurant. However, she got there heavily pregnant and had to spend weeks and months babysitting. “I got denied a lot but finally we got my visa on the fourth try. We moved here and I was heavily pregnant. So, I had the baby (Malcolm) two weeks after I arrived in Nanaimo,” she said.
Nkrumah and her husband migrated to Halifax after the birth of their second kid and afterwards sent out resumes to get cooking expertise. She was employed by Aramark, Cora’s, Italian Market, and a local steakhouse.
In 2012, she opened Mary’s African Cuisine as a stand at Halifax’s Seaport Farmers Market, followed by the opening of Kicks Café, a soccer-themed café in the BMO Soccer Centre.
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“We’re nowhere near where we wanted to be. But my wife, she worked herself like crazy just to survive,” said Roberts. “The ones who survive are the ones who sacrifice their lives to keep the place open.”
Nkrumah’s journey to owning a restaurant in Canada was tough. While in Ghana in the 1980s, the country witnessed a military coup and the new regime was hell-bent on instituting Marxist policies.
Those harshly affected by the policy included Nkrumah’s family bakery. “We had to wait for someone from the [government] to check the bread before we could sell,” recalled Nkrumah. “Flour was so expensive and wasn’t common. So, it was only bakers who were allowed to have flour.”
Nkrumah also encountered difficulties while running her restaurant at the Seaport Farmers Market. Managers at the market intended to relocate her food station and other ethnic food vendors from the first to the second floor in 2015. This change had the potential to deprive her of clients because they would have to ascend the stairway to the second story to eat at her restaurant.
“It was basically like walking us out from the market,” said Nkrumah. “When they come and get their produce, it’s only a few people who would come upstairs.”
Later, the market reversed its decision to relocate them upstairs, but they were had to sign a $1,500-per-month lease, which was quadruple what they were previously paying. According to Huddle, Nkrumah left after three years and bought the Baba Ghanouj Café in 2018, which reopened a year later as the well-known restaurant with the same name as the Seaport.