Ayalnesh Dubale is the founder of Mudai Ethiopis, a startup that sells spices and “a large range of all-natural items” from her native Ethiopia. Dubale, a single mother, started her journey after she quit working for others because there was no chance of promotion.
“It was tough. It was hard being a single mom on the island and trying to find a job,” Dubale told The Royal Gazette. She had to work hard to support herself after her divorce from her Bermudian husband. “It was really hard for me. But I used to work in restaurants; I used to work in retail and my experience when I worked in retail, that’s when my mind was opened up.”
Going into the sale of spices is not surprising owing to the culture Dubale grew up in. In Ethiopia, food is an integral part of the culture because everybody cooks. According to her, cooking is an art every woman is encouraged to learn.
“In Ethiopia that’s how the country, how the civilization was built, by selling spices. So it’s in our blood. Just creating berbere can take two months or so but you have people supporting you, working with you. It’s almost like you’re the master chef and then you have the sous chefs around you creating spices,” she said.
Dubale sources her authentic spices from her Ethiopian-based mother, which usually takes a month or more to make. “You have to create everything for one year because then you can cook easily – all the spices, all the seasonings are there,” she noted.
The Ethiopian entrepreneur was also inspired to start her spices business in Bermuda after having seen canned foods being labeled “organic.” She also heard people complain about not having enough healthy foods on the shelves and it dawned on her to provide them with an alternative.
“It helped me a lot to realize there was a massive market demand for new types of products that were more natural and transparent with a better responsibility both economically and environmentally,” she said.
Besides offering customers access to “high quality, natural products,” Mudai Ethiopis also gives them the chance to learn more about Ethiopian culture.
“[Our desire is] to enhance the story of the makers behind the scenes. Our goal is to increase consumer awareness regarding the benefits of natural products and the harmful effects of non-necessary chemicals in the planet we live in,” Dubale said.
Dubale’s entrepreneurial journey has not been smooth sailing. She said it was not easy making a living with new products, coupled with the fact that she is an African. “So I have had to educate people about what it is I’m doing – what the spices are and how to use them in a very simple way with their everyday cooking,” she said.
Dubale, as part of efforts to educate people about her products, started offering her services as a chef, preparing dishes inspired by Ethiopian cuisine. “People love the food. It’s very tasty, very clean. Every time I cook, people appreciate the food,” she said.
Another challenge has been how to get all the items she needs from Ethiopia to isolated Bermuda, in a “timely and cost-efficient way”, she told The Royal Gazette.
“All my products are sourced straight from Ethiopia by my family and friends and there are no direct flight connections so products either need to go through the UK or the US before reaching Bermuda, which can add some administrative burden and cost extra money,” she said.
And since there is no packaging facility on the island, she imports all her packaging material from abroad and she has to pack everything by herself at her home, which can get very time-consuming, she said.
All the same, Dubale is now turning her attention to the U.S. as a potential market for her spices and other products, including teas and clothes to fulfill her dream of “seeing my food and my story in every kitchen, in every person’s mouth”. She would also like to have her own facility in Ethiopia so she can export final products from there while supporting the economy and the community.