Entrepreneur brings her culture to her businesses

Posted: 4/2/2022 1:01:06 pm

Modified: 04/02/2022 13:00:02

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 businesses that celebrate the culinary flavors of various African nations. Her latest launches are a meal plan to help people lose weight and a line of natural drinks.

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

Djabea fell in love with cooking at the age of 11 when she became a special taste tester for her aunt Berthe. Even then, she made sandwiches to sell at school to pay for the long taxi ride between home and school.

In 2000, Djabea moved to the US with her two young children at age 22 to attend school in Atlanta, Georgia. Then her mother, who lived in Cameroon, lost her job and told Djabea that she needed to take care of her two brothers, a teenager and a preteen. .

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

Djabea often cooked traditional Cameroonian dishes for friends and coworkers, and a friend urged her to start a chili sauce company using Cameroonian recipes. “I said, ‘No, that’s crazy. I cook for my family. I don’t cook for anyone else,’” she remembers her 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 to love it,” she says, and she was inspired. “What if we sell culture in a bottle and create a flavor profile for each country?”

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

She rented a space in Nashua just before the pandemic hit, which gave her pause. After some soul searching, she decided to go ahead anyway.

“It will be hard, but I will do it no matter how much 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. Last December, Mola Foods launched an eating plan to lose weight. Powered by Djabea, the support system includes a personalized meal plan and weekly 30-minute sessions with health coach, Chef Tiffany Lewis.

The program includes 14 weekly meals, such as Poulet Yassa, which is marinated chicken cooked in a mixture of Senegalese spices, with onions, coriander and olives.

Through Mola Foods, Djabea wants to offer healthy food without customers needing a lot of ingredients and “combat the stigma around African food and culture.”

“If I can open people’s minds to the African flavor through my meal plans and products, I think I can encourage people to reconsider African culture,” he says.

For more information, visit molafoods.com.

These articles are being shared by partners at The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit www.colaborativenh.org.

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