Meet Samuel Ngwa. He is a Cameroonian coffee entrepreneur based in Minnesota. Ngwa’s path toward becoming an entrepreneur started when he picked coffee beans on his father’s farm to help raise money for his fees, although he didn’t really like the chore.
It was in 1973 that he saw the commercial value of his family’s coffee farm after he had gone to the United States as a foreign exchange student and was now studying at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. According to him, almost everyone he saw was having a cup of coffee and it piqued his interest to learn more about how coffee is made.
“Everybody I saw was moving very fast. Most of them were holding these white cups in their hands. Everybody drinking coffee,” Ngwa said in an interview. “It dawned on me that all this time when my father was kicking my butt to pick beans, people all over the world were drinking coffee. At that point, I knew I wanted to know more about how the process worked.”
After obtaining his maters’ degree in industrial technology and management, he returned to Cameroon to put his vision of becoming a big player in the coffee industry into fruition. He first worked for the Cameroonian government and later for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program that provided technical assistance to coffee growers, according to Twin Cities Daily Planet.
Ngwa connected with local farmers and went back to the U.S. in 1994, where he started importing coffee from West Africa. By 1996, Ngwa, a resident of Brooklyn Park resident, launched his first line of coffees, which he marketed under the Safari Pride label.
First, he focused on single-source beans that he obtained from Cameroon and other countries in Africa but he later added an array of blends. He described the Azobe Blend, which takes its name from the Azobe tree of the African lowlands, as his “most potent eye-opener”.
“We provide coffees of the utmost quality, which are grown in nutrient rich volcanic regions at high altitudes and that maintain the integrity of the terroir. These coffees are handpicked, processed, and graded with only the highest graded beans selected for roasting which are then validated by high cupping rates,” his company’s website says.
Ngwa said he works 12 to 14 hours a day since he is the only one doing everything. However, when he has shipments, he hires temporary workers. According to him, he started operating from a rented space on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis.
However, since 2004, he has roasted his beans at a business incubator in an industrial neighborhood on the North Side. The Cameroonian entrepreneur also runs a food import business, Dessco International, which sells African spices, smoked frozen fish, palm oils, and so on.
The journey has not always been smooth, Ngwa said. When he started his business, coffeehouses loved his coffee but were not interested in doing business with him. The situation was so dire that he almost lost everything in the first two years. The Cameroonian immigrant also lost so much weight and nearly gave up until one of his friends, who met him in his quest to look for funding from NGOs, told him that he would help him grow his business.
“I told him, ‘Take 20 percent of what you sell.’ That’s how I was able to survive,” he said Ngwa.
Today, he supplies coffee to the Somali malls and other restaurants. He now roasts about a ton plus of coffee a day. “I have survived on roasting an average of 200 pounds every two weeks,” he said.