Mary Nkrumah grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Her grandmother sold kenkey, a local meal from southern Ghana made from corn. Her mother was also a successful baker and a produce seller. Nkrumah inherited her entrepreneurship traits from these two women in her teenage years.
“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.”
In her teens, she set up a rice stand and later in her adult life, opened her own restaurant in Ghana called Oceanview Garden Restaurant. She later got married to Jonathan Roberts, a Mount Saint Vincent professor who specializes in West African history. Nkrumah relocated to Canada to join 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.
After welcoming their second child, Nkrumah and her husband relocated to Halifax and later sent off resumes to gain culinary experience. She worked for Aramark, Cora’s, Italian Market, and a local steakhouse.
In 2012, she launched Mary’s African Cuisine as a stand at the Seaport Farmers Market in Halifax and followed it up with the launch of Kicks Café, a soccer-themed café in the BMO Soccer Centre.
“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 faced challenges while operating her restaurant at the Seaport Farmers Market. In 2015, managers of the market wanted to move her food stand and other ethnic food vendors from the first floor to the second floor. This move had the potential to deprive her of customers as people would have to climb the staircase to the second floor to patronize her food.
“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 rescinded its decision to move them upstairs but they were asked to sign a $1,500-a-month lease, triple of what they used to pay. After three years, Nkrumah moved out and acquired the Baba Ghanouj Café in 2018, which a year later reopened as the well patronized restaurant with the same name they used at the Seaport, according to Huddle.