Three Women from the Diaspora Opened the First Salad Bar in Haiti

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • August 6, 2012 3:07 PM EDT
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Many Haitians living abroad are thinking of opening a business in Haiti. Some of them are doubtful and think they cannot afford it, or are afraid it would be too difficult; others just do it.

Three women from the Diaspora, Carine Jocelyn, Geraldine Superville, and Edna Desulme got their ideas and their money together, worked hard for 5-6 months, and in January this year opened Sankofa Salads, the first salad bar in Haiti.

"The word Sankofa means looking back to your ancestry or your roots to help you move forward. It's an African term. That is a representation of who we are: three women who invested back into their history in some way," says Carine, one of the owners.

A salad bar is not a usual restaurant in Haiti, but the three partners' primary target market are the people who have lived or have traveled outside of Haiti. Sankofa Salads is a western style restaurant: the set-up, menu, customer service, and prices are similar to what you will find in the US. Besides salad, they also serve and deliver soups, sandwiches, smoothies, and breakfast items.

"We really felt that it would be a fresh alternative for people who are interested in healthy eating, so why not focus on salad which is something new and innovative," said Carine.

Operations

Carine, Geraldine, and Edna invested about $50,000 of their own money in this business. One of the key steps was to find the right location and they "lucked out" as Carine says. It didn't take them very long to find a good location in Pétion-Ville, a business district in Haiti where average retail space rental goes for about US $1,500 a month. The three partners, however, had to pay 12 months of rent upfront, and they will have to continue paying 12 months upfront every year on their 5-year lease. Carine says that this is a common practice in Haiti.

To be able to run the business, one of the partners is based in Haiti. Carine and the third partner travel to Haiti frequently to help manage the business.

Carine thinks that opening and operating a business in Haiti is just like everywhere else.

"I think the challenge in Haiti is perhaps folks understanding what the rules and regulations are. I think there is a perception that people can just go to Haiti and do whatever they want just because it is Haiti, or that there are no rules and regulations. But there are. There are legal requirements, processes and procedures, banking issues; it's like everywhere else," says Carine.

Customer Service

Carine admits that there is a real need for good customer service in Haiti. She herself has experienced poor customer service, and this is one of the things the partners decided to do differently at Sankofa Salads. They hired a local trainer to provide two weeks of customer service training to all their staff of 12 people. Now, all their customers are greeted with "Welcome to Sankofa Salads". Since their target market are Haitian Diaspora, Foreigners, and Haitians who have travelled abroad, Carine and her partners established their business in English. However, their employees also speak Creole, French, and Spanish.

"We would love to have more suppliers in Haiti"

Carine and her partners use local suppliers for lettuce, onions, carrots, and even paper towels. They have about 10 suppliers that they found mostly through referrals.

"We would love to have more suppliers in Haiti. We have one lettuce supplier; we would like to have three or four so there can be some competition." says Carine.

The three partners are content so far of how the business is developing. Eventually they would like to expand it to other parts of the country.

"Don’t operate from fear"

Carine recommends to those who want to invest in Haiti to spend some time there before investing; get a sense of the landscape and of what people really want, as well as understand the rules, regulations, policies and procedures to opening a business. She says that it could also be helpful to seek out the chambers of commerce for advice.

Carine added, "Don't operate from fear. For us, it really is about just trying it out and experiencing it, and knowing that there are committed, dedicated, and professional people in Haiti that can be supportive of your venture."

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