Black entrepreneur finds success with African grocery store in Saskatoon, but there are still obstacles

Laura Oriaifo came to Saskatoon in 2014.  Now she's celebrating the one year anniversary of her African grocery store and takeaway, CrownAfriq.  (Leisha Grebinski/CBC - photo credit)

Laura Oriaifo came to Saskatoon in 2014. Now she’s celebrating the one year anniversary of her African grocery store and takeaway, CrownAfriq. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC – photo credit)

It’s been a year since Laura Oriaifo opened her African grocery store and took the restaurant CrownAfriq with her, bringing a taste of Africa to Saskatoon.

“I am delighted that I was able to reach this milestone. It was challenging and fun. It was stressful for a startup. But so far so good. I’m grateful,” she said with a big smile on her face.

Oriaifo has always wanted to have a retail business and often thought about owning a Dollarama or another dollar store, but didn’t have the capital to do so.

“My friend and I thought why not open an African grocery store as there aren’t many in this region.”

Ground nuts, African vegetables, beverages, beans, fou fou flour, traditional spices and African yams abound in the shop on the corner of Eighth Street and Clarence Avenue.

The inventory focuses on Nigeria, Oriaifo’s home country, but with many in Saskatchewan celebrating Black History Month, she said she hopes to gradually bring in flavors from more African countries.

Leisha Grebinski/CBC

Leisha Grebinski/CBC

Oriaifo left Nigeria in 2010 and went to the UK to do her Masters. She then moved to Saskatoon on September 20, 2014.

“I’m just lucky to be an entrepreneur here,” she said.

HEAR | Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski visits the store:

“Systemic racism makes life difficult for black entrepreneurs”: CEO

Cindy Harrison, CEO of the ACT Learning Center and Communicare companies, said Black entrepreneurs face many other barriers.

“In general, we don’t do much in Canada to encourage entrepreneurship, but the barriers for people of color are being increased in very significant ways,” she said

“We have a system of barriers and systemic racism that unfortunately makes it difficult for black entrepreneurs to thrive.”

She said the number one way to fill gaps in black entrepreneurship in Canada is to prioritize representation. She told CBC that black entrepreneurs can find it difficult to think about entrepreneurship because they “don’t see successful entrepreneurs who look like her or have similar life experiences.”

Harrison said there are even more barriers to being a black woman, as she’s learned firsthand.

“Women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as their male counterparts. I think that’s amplified tenfold if you’re female and black.”

She said Black-owned businesses fill gaps in the community but too often experience racism that is “systemic and institutional.”

“I think a big part of the solution is mentoring to bridge this racial wealth gap.”

Harrison said meaningful training on racism should be mandatory for educators, healthcare professionals, business leaders, government employees and executives.

“It also starts with educational institutions and with meaningful training for educators on racism and unconscious bias. There are many systemic barriers in our education system that prevent young people of color from succeeding,” she said.

“Policymakers must also create laws that bring about meaningful change, not just on paper. They should focus on breaking down the systemic barriers that people of color face.”

For more stories about Black Canadians’ experiences—from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community—see Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.




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