Urbana Is the Place to Be For African Immigrants

Urbana, Memoire Budimbu Mabiza, Lisette Mbaki, DRC, Angola, the Best of Africa

Urbana has in the past accommodated many Africans and most specifically Congolese citizens. The group had faced difficulties in finding beauty products and foods that are mostly used by Africans. The only place to get such food was at the Lee’s Oriental Food which used to have less stock. It came to a time when the store was running short of the products. People ended up not getting whatever they needed at a specific time. But a couple with an entrepreneurship mind decided to use the opportunity.

Memoire Budimbu Mabiza and his wife Lisette Mbaki started the Best of Africa Food Store in Champaign. The two started the business to fill the wide gap that was there on the African products. Mbaki started selling food to her friends moving from house to house. She also sold food to the company where she used to work before. She, later on, maximize the opportunity after Lee closed down. Mbaki moved from just selling food to her friends to opening a big grocery. That is how Best of Africa Food Store came into being.

She settled on the name “Best of Africa” so as to have the word Africa in it. This helped to take away the wrong notion that some people have towards Africa. The area citizens never had a good take on the Africans. But Africans now own many businesses in Urbana. Mbaki raised in a business-oriented family. Her mom developed a commercial center at a place where there was a military location. This was at the border of DRC and Angola. Mbaki got much inspiration of starting a business from her mother. Mbaki also has a bachelor in finance affairs from Flagship University in Kinshasa. Her husband has a degree in business administration. They then used diversity visa card to migrate to the US.

Mbaki used to be attracted to the nice building that located behind the Urbana Adult Education Center. This was way before she decided to engage herself in the business. Mbaki saw the place as an ideal location for putting up a business. The building was close to the Urbana Adult Education Center and many factories. There you can get many adult immigrants from Africa. The urge to make the idea practical came after the two had attended a business seminar. The seminar was hosted by a leader in the Congolese community. They met with Susan Ogwal, a PhD student in the College of Education at the University of Illinois. Mbaki who is well known to Ogwal reached to her after the seminar. Mbaki went ahead and asked for her help in making her business better. Ogwal took them through all that is required to set up a business in the United States. This helped them to get all the formal information that was necessary to them given that they were new to the US.

The couple then set up regular meetings with Ogwal on the processes required gets loans. They also wanted to know the requirements to buy their own space. They used to meet at Urbana Free Library. They were also helped to do research and statistics on African immigrants in Urbana. They also researched about African immigrants in the whole state. This helped them to open up the first African grocery in the area. They got the rich customer base given the high number of immigrants in Central Illinois. During the time of research, the area had only a single business owned by immigrants. This was Sister African Hair Braiding that was founded in 2005. A few other businesses came up in Champaign-Urbana after the establishment of Best of Africa.


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Written by Denis Opudo

Am an engineer who's a tech blogger, hit me up on [email protected] and we base our discussion on technology in Africa and the rest of the world.
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