One small trailer filled with food is bridging the gap between people, knowledge, cultures and much more in Worthington. It’s World Mart, a store on wheels that’s steered by the passion of Nathalie Nkashama. Nathalie and her husband Mcnay originally opened a brick-and-mortar version of World Mart in 2018 as a way to connect with people in the Worthington community, and to supply many ethnic foods that were missing for new immigrant families.
“It’s not just about food. Through the food I’m able to meet with people. I hear them. I help them,” said Nathalie, who holds a degree in psychology from Hamline University and works as a child protection social worker for Nobles County in addition to operating World Mart.
Initially, there was a lot of excitement for the new store. But it was challenging to retain staff, to stock the right amounts of food and to keep the enterprise running alongside raising three young boys and full-time careers. When the pandemic hit, Nathalie had no choice but to reinvent World Mart. And just as quickly, it went from losses to profits.
“I always say there’s always a way. Don’t give up, don’t give in,” said Nathalie, who admitted transitioning was hard. “It’s not easy to close. I wanted to meet people at the store and have gatherings there.”
From opening day to taking World Mart on the road, Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) was there for Nathalie and her small business. Through our Microenterprise Loan Program, we helped Nathalie with financing and continue to provide free technical assistance as she navigates the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
That assistance has included QuickBooks training and a collaborative marketing training called Startup Bootcamp, which helps entrepreneurs define their vision, goals and strategy for their business, as well as Startup Club, a community of Startup Bootcamp alums doing hands-on workshops, offering collaborative feedback and networking.
“SWIF worked in collaboration with Berny Berger, a professional business consultant with the Small Business Development Center, to provide tremendous support to my business. They led me to great resources and offered trainings like StartUp Bootcamp. I wasn’t born here, so I didn’t know how to get the resources to start a business,” Nathalie said.
“The reason World Mart has survived is Nathalie’s tenacity. She never gives up and is not afraid to track down people and resources to help her with what she needs for this business,” said Jackie Turner, SWIF Economic Development Officer
Both Nathalie and Mcnay grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They met in England and have traveled extensively internationally. Mcnay speaks seven languages and Nathalie five, which helps bridge gaps in communication with African immigrants, many who have a hard time finding familiar ingredients in town.
While Nkashamas are newcomers to the community as well, when Nathalie approached different communities of immigrants in Worthington, she wasn’t immediately accepted. But she knew she had something to offer and persisted.
“I’m a people person. I want to know you. That desire to learn about culture led me to different homes and different people. I ate their food. I went to their parties,” Nathalie said. “Talking is a gift God has given me. I don’t like to be a stranger to people. That’s why I love Worthington. It’s like a village.”
She learned about needs and opportunities, along with what ingredients are important in local kitchens and may be hard to get. During the pandemic, teff has been in short supply. It’s an ancient grain whose flour is used to make many things, including injera, a staple flatbread in many Ethiopian and Eritrean homes. Nathalie has worked hard to source teff for her customers, despite scarcity. Now she uses it to make her own pancakes at home.
COVID-19 also revealed that many elders depend on their family members in the Twin Cities to bring African groceries to them, but that’s not happening as often with limited travel. Since World Mart is on wheels, she’s been able to bridge that gap too.
“I have learned so much and I offered so much. Everyone has something to offer and learn,” Nathalie said. “When you love what you do, you keep pushing and you see miracles.”
Looking ahead, Nathalie is working with Community Wellness Partners, part of local public health, to insulate her trailer against freezing winter weather so she’ll be able to keep delivering year-round. She doesn’t see herself going back to a storefront as she’s better able to manage inventory with the trailer, and she’s attracted customers from Jackson, Windom and towns in Iowa, in addition to Worthington. Plus, it’s more fun.
“It’s a rebirth for me, for the communities,” Nathalie said.
This story appears in our 2020 Annual Impact Report. Read more from the report.