How Global Village Foods Is Bringing African Cuisine to New England and Beyond: An Interview with Wangene Hall
The following interview with Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Wangene Hall is a multifaceted, multi-talented, brilliant young woman who has found purpose in supporting her parents with their family business Global Village Foods. In this interview, she talks about how Global Village Foods started, what it means to work with family, and the hopes she has for the future for both herself and the company.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): Thanks for spending time with us and allowing us to learn about Global Village Foods and about the work you and your family are doing. Can you share with our readers where the idea for Global Village Foods came from and what type of foods you sell?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: The idea for Global Village Foods came from our ethos and mission: making African-inspired and global flavors that everyone could enjoy. We started the business as Global Village Cuisine in 2015, which encapsulated our desire to bring African heritage and old world cooking techniques into convenient dining options like frozen dinners and to-go snacks. We rebranded in early 2021 so we could better reflect our mission of making food that everyone can enjoy. The word “cuisine” was a helpful starting point, but we got feedback from our customers that it felt a little bit too fancy and not as accessible as we wanted it to be. The word “food” is simple. You eat it everyday and it’s a part of your daily routine. The rebrand to “Global Village Foods” allowed us to convey our mission of making allergy-friendly African food for everyone.
We sell many different products. You can find our line of frozen meals in Whole Foods across New England. These are branded meals with the new packaging we released at the beginning of 2021. You can also find our samosas in co-ops and delis across New England. If you’ve had samosas from an independent co-op in the Northeast, chances are, you’ve had our product. These samosas are often sold in bulk without our branding, but you can also find samosas in single-serve containers that do have our branding. We’ve been doing a lot of exciting work in product innovation, so we’ll also be releasing lots of new offerings in 2022. Be sure to sign-up for our email to be notified when new products are released!
WN: I want to explore the Global Village Foods ethos, this notion that food is for everyone to enjoy. What does sharing food from the Diaspora mean to you and your family?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: Sharing food from the African Diaspora means that we’re bringing authentic recipes that reflect our own cultural history and the rich diversity of flavors, spices and ingredients found across Africa. We focus on a few key regions: we have Kenyan dishes represented with our Swahili Curry Chicken and our Samosa lines; we have Ethiopian dishes; we have Moroccan dishes; and we even have an allergy-friendly version of a traditional West African stew. What this means to us is that we’re making flavors that an American audience may not know about and we’re making them delicious, allergy friendly and easy to enjoy.
Sharing food from the African Diaspora also means being creative and inspired; knowing that authentic recipes from Kenya can be just as powerful as bringing in Southern soul recipes. We see ourselves as part of the conversation around African Diaspora and cooking traditions that Stephen Satterfield started with “High on the Hog.” We can be true to the spirit of these places while reimagining them. Both are authentic as our co-founders, Damaris and Mel Hall, come from Kenya and Memphis, Tennessee, respectively. Recipes, cooking and community allow us a space to imagine what Black community can look like across both African and African- American experiences.
WN: I love that you mentioned Stephen Satterfield. I was introduced to him this year when I watched High on the Hog on Netflix. It is such an incredible series and should be seen by all. I agree that understanding and celebrating those connections through our food is paramount to building community within the Diaspora. I want to talk a little bit about entrepreneurship, as this is a family business. Many entrepreneurs acknowledge that entrepreneurship can be challenging, but your father views entrepreneurship, particularly for Black people, as a means of economic development and liberation. Can you expound on that?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: My father, Mel, from Memphis, Tennessee, is the ultimate entrepreneur. He sees a vision of how the world could be, and from nothing, he’s able to bring new ideas to life. For him, building a business started deep. His own grandfather, and my great-grandfather, started the first Black-owned plumbing company in Memphis. Despite all the hardships endured during the Jim Crow era, he was able to feed his family and inspire lessons on Black entrepreneurship that my father, Mel, teaches to this day. When you’re building a business, you’re building a legacy, too.
WN: Amen to that beautiful notion of building a legacy! I argue that many of our readers have the same goal. They don’t just want financial freedom for themselves, they want it for their families. So, it’s been well over a year since COVID-19 changed the global community. How did the pandemic affect your business last year and what are three things that you did to help sustain it.
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: Our business, like many others, got hit really hard by the pandemic. The biggest challenge for us was the loss of foot traffic, because we were primarily a brick and mortar business. Without anyone going into stores to buy the product, our revenue dropped significantly. Very quickly, we had to learn about the e-commerce space, build a website and let our amazing customers know where to find us. That revenue allowed us to survive through the worst of it. Thankfully, in Vermont, we have an incredible program called Vermont Everyone Eats that started in the fall of 2020. Under the program, local Vermont restaurants were paid by state funding to produce meals for the local community that would be distributed to those who were food insecure. One of the requirements of the program was that you had to use 10% local produce, which was easy for us to do as a company that prioritized local sourcing prior to the pandemic. The program has had a major impact as it’s allowed us to continue growing and, most importantly, have a really meaningful impact on our local community by alleviating food insecurity for families around Vermont.
Outside of e-commerce and Everyone Eats, we’ve also worked really hard to pivot our foodservice business (bulk foods that can be served in deli sections of grocery stores, college dining halls or work cafeterias). That business is now catered to single serve, individual portions that allow for anyone looking for a quick lunch or dinner option to enjoy our offerings.
WN: It is incredible that you had access to those resources during this time and that it helped you guys pivot. You all had to be creative and nimble, which is important as business owners. When you think about the next 5-10 years for the business, what growth opportunities do you envision for GVF?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: Over the next 5-10 years, we envision a few exciting things at Global Village Foods. We intend to be a leader in food service, to continue expanding into the grocery store aisle and we expect to keep rolling out new and exciting products. We want to be a family-oriented company that employees are proud to be a part of and we want to continue to be a voice for Black entrepreneurship and community in Vermont.
WN: As a brand that believes in community, how does GVF authentically engage with the community beyond providing this incredible food service?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: Beyond incredible food service, we’re actively engaged in the community by supporting organizations like the Vermont Releaf Collective, a network for BIPOC folks advancing racial equity in Land, Environment, Agriculture, Farming and Foodways. In 2022, we’ll also be unveiling ways that customers can engage with us at our new facility in Quechee, VT.
WN: That’s exciting and I’m sure you’re looking forward to 2022 with all the new stuff you have on the horizon. I want to talk more about this family dynamic and how you all fit within GVF. Your mother is a culinary artist, your father is an entrepreneur. Where does Wangene fit in this business, what are your main responsibilities?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: This one’s easy! At Global Village Foods, I do everything from marketing, to executing strategic initiatives and building the ecosystem around what we do. Basically, over the past few years, I’ve learned to be scrappy and find resources to grow the business according to what it needs right now. That ranges from everything from financing projects to marketing and sales. My own goals are going back for my MBA so I can learn the management skills to be a strong operator and strategic advisor to diverse business owners in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) space. As part of MLT (Management Leadership for Tomorrow) and the Forté Foundation, I’ve already taken strides towards that goal. Long-term, I look forward to coming back to my family business to help us continue to grow.
WN: Can you share with our readers your path to joining the family business and the ways in which you plan to elevate it?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: It was an exciting surprise! I worked in corporate America for five years before joining the family business, and I initially had the goal of being the CMO of a Fortune 500 company. When Covid hit, I realized that I could make a bigger impact and own my outcomes if I joined the family business. In this process, I helped navigate our transition from brick and mortar to e-commerce and omnichannel. I’ve been actively involved in helping us scale growth, and I plan to continue to elevate the business by sharing our story and getting us in front of the customers who have a real need for our products. My focus in business school is learning the skills to help us grow in both foodservice and retail, which I believe will require strategy, operations and finance skills. For me, that’s a huge reason behind why I want to pursue my MBA. No matter what happens next, I’m grateful and deeply honored to continue building on my family’s legacy of Black entrepreneurship.
WN: It has been a pleasure learning about GVF and all that you’re doing in the foodservice space. For our readers who may be interested in trying your delicious meals, where can we find them, in which stores, and where online?
Wangene Hall of Global Village Foods: You can always find us online at globalvillagefoods.com. We’re currently in Whole Foods and natural food co-ops across New England. We’ve got lots of exciting plans to expand in 2022, which means that online ordering is currently unavailable. But that said, you should follow us on Instagram or Facebook to keep up with our latest happenings. We’ll have more exciting news to announce soon about where to find us next!
Thank you again Wangene for sharing the story of Global Village Foods with the Wealth Noir Community. Thanks to you and your parents for sharing food from the African Diaspora in New England and beyond. We’re thrilled for the success you’ve obtained thus far even in the midst of challenges and for what the future holds!