The city of Houston is known for its vibrant melting pot of cultures and traditions, but one name has become synonymous with the celebration of diversity and the provision of authentic cultural experiences.
As Wazobia African Market, the largest African grocery store in Texas, marks its 10th anniversary, the community is coming together to celebrate the remarkable journey of its visionary founder, Tunde Fasina, and the profound impact of his establishment in Houston. More than just a grocery store, Wazobia African Market had become a cultural hub, bridging gaps and fostering a sense of unity among residents from different backgrounds and ethnicities.
From the moment you step into both its Westheimer and Beechnut locations, you’ll be taken on a cultural journey of West Africa, from its carefully curated products, shelves brimming with spices, traditional vegetables and fruits, walls covered in unique African artistry, sounds of Afrobeats blazing in the air, and an array of fresh snacks and delicacies.
Wazobia has become a haven for those seeking an authentic state of African culture.
As Wazobia African Market enters its next chapter, Fasina hopes to take their efforts to another level.
On June 24, the market will hosts its Wazobia Family Fun Fair where attendees will enjoy the tastes of Africa, Afrobeats music, games and activities for all ages, all while celebrating this milestone though major gifts and prizes.
The Defender spoke to Fasina to learn about his entrepreneurial journey and the future of the market.
Defender: Share the inspiration behind starting Wazobia Supermarket. What motivated you to establish a supermarket catering to the African community of this magnitude?
TUNDE FASINA: The idea is to bring everything, if not most things that we [African community members] buy, under one roof. At that time, there was, and still exists, a bunch of smaller outlets that catered to a niche group. You couldn’t get everything at the same place. A lot of things that we needed were still being furnished by other groups like the Chinese and white people. My inspiration came from my conviction that we could do it better, that we could do it in a way that could bring this thing down in an environment that is very condusive in which the customer was the focus of the establishment. That’s what triggered, if not informed, my every decision from, then till now.
Defender: What were some challenges you encounter during the early stages of establishing the supermarket? How did you overcome them?
FASINA: Money. There was no money. It was literally starting from scratch, and money was a huge bit of a problem. It literally was a factor for a whole number of years because we started with very little money. Then, we had to contend with growth. We were growing and didn’t have money to fund the growth. There was a lot of praying, mathematical magic and hard work. Watching the numbers, especially expenditures very closely and micromanaging every aspect of the business to maximize the amount of money we were able to reinvest into the business. It was very difficult. A lot of personal sacrifices had to be made. Step by step, it took us about three and a half years to achieve that. That’s the simplest way I can put it. You just had to be there.
Defender: How has the supermarket evolved over time in terms of offering services and customer service experience? What are some key milestones or changes you’ve implemented?
FASINA: Changes evolve with the customers’ wants and needs. We are always looking for how we can make our services better. We value customer feedback and it’s a gift for us. What we’ve done over time is implement programs that actively seek customer feedback. We’ve learned that we are constantly evolving to meet their expectations. It’s not just in groceries. It has to be in the way they liked to be served. We aren’t shy about changing the entire thing as long as it is what the majority of customers want. If it’s a product a customer wants, we will do the research and see if it’s something we can do. If we cannot come up with a positive way that will best serve our customers, we’ll scrap the entire idea because they’re the ones who decide, not us.
Defender: Wazobia is more than a grocery store. It’s become a community hub and supporter of local entrepreneurs. Share the important initiatives and events that have fostered community engagement throughout the years.
FASINA: Mainly products, difficult products to find. There is some stuff that we literally got from Kenya and it took almost 18 months to find everything. There’s one that I’ve been given from South Africa. In our community, one of the strangest things unfortunately is customers cannot believe that they’re shopping at a place that actually cares about them. So, it’s hard for them to open up. We do a lot of giveaways because we’ve got a surplus. We have a customer’s appreciation which we do on a yearly basis. The point behind that is to provide an environment which our customers come together to enjoy themselves with their children, have fun, win prizes, and it’s all free. We take from what white people do, because they’ve done it better. Why reinvent the wheel? Go there and look at what they are doing and see what is working and adapt it with some African flavor. That’s it. It’s not rocket science, it’s just determination in applying what you’ve learned.
Defender: How do you ensure the quality and authenticity of the products available at your supermarkets?
FASINA: We set a very high bar because we go through extensive research. The fact that I find the product with you doesn’t mean it’s entering my store the next day. We ask a whole lot of questions and assess from who we are buying it. How long has this person been in business? Are they reputable? How long have they been in business? Who have they been in business with? We get all that information first before we start going. Do we get it right all the time? No. But what we do know is this, because of how much we buy and what we are capable of doing, we stress the importance of long-term relationships rather than short-term profit. If you want to keep making money with us, you better make sure that you give us the very best stuff. If we find out you give us subpar services and subpar product, we immediately stop doing business with you and there is no conversation after that.
Defender: What are your best-selling products?
FASINA: Hands down … Yams!! I make sure I have a certain amount of supply every month. It is not easy. From the moment you get one box of yams it takes eight weeks of planning. So, you have to make sure that you run your game all the time. That’s it.
Defender: Talk about your upcoming fair.
FASINA: It’s a continuation of what we’ve done every year. Every summer we hold a party at a park and it keeps growing on a yearly basis. People come for the fun and activities. You have the opportunity to win prizes. We give away a television, laptop, free groceries for a year, even a car! It’s an avenue to bring everyone together, celebrate our achievements, and the support the community has shown us in the last 10 years. This year we are having it in the Sugarland Baseball Stadium. It’s a massive place to accommodate everyone who comes. We are giving the opportunity for vendors to showcase their products to the community as well. It’s a win-win for everyone.