World Mart grocery store, Worthington
Opened June 2018
I came to Worthington because of a job: I am a child protection social worker for Nobles County. When I moved here, I just saw a different place. There’s different cultures, different races, different communities here. It’s like a small village. That’s why I love Worthington.
World Mart started out of a need that was inspired by my children, my sons, particularly Eliel. So here I am busy with whatever I do, and he came one day to hand me a book, “How to turn $100 into $1,000,000.” He said, “You said you were going to help me to start a business and you haven’t even done it. I knew you were not going to it.” This is my personality, when somebody tells me I cannot do it, it’s like they put wings for me to fly and go do it. They put a fire under me – hey, get it done!
I figured I had better show my son I can do this, I can start a business. I started looking around, finding different resources, interviewing different businesses. Let’s see what are the needs in our community? There was a big gap that needed to be bridged, which is African food. People travel like 3 hours 45 minutes away to get their food, and I said no, this cannot happen. I couldn’t find what I needed to eat, so I said well, we have to have East African groceries and West African.
World Mart opened and everyone was excited for something new. But I still had to be accepted by the community because I am selling something that is not from my country. I’m from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now I had to get to know new cultures. That desire to learn about culture led me to different homes and different people; I went to their parties, ate their food. It wasn’t that hard because I’m a people person. Talking is a gift God has given me. If you want to bridge the gap, you have to build a network. I network a lot. I believe everyone has something to offer and everyone has something to learn.
Southwest Initiative Foundation was a big support, providing assistance with business strategies and marketing help to better articulate all my crazy ideas. Through SWIF, I have been blessed to meet great people. Worthington Regional Economic Development Center, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Southwest Regional Development Commission and the Small Business Development Center with Berny Berger, those are my team – and my family and the community.
When COVID started, that was a big challenge. People relied on me. I couldn’t have a staff member to run the business. I was running back and forth. It was just a lot. Already I was thinking of doing different things with the business. Then came the idea of a store on wheels. Since the customer could not come to us because of COVID, we had to go them.
I was so scared to take this path because I didn’t know how it’s going to look like. I didn’t know, how am I going to be driving it? I’ve never driven a trailer. It wasn’t easy to close (the storefront). I wanted to meet people there and have gatherings there. Transitioning was hard.
I thank God for inspiring me to work hard despite the challenges. This is a story of resilience and passion beyond borders, a passion to bridge the gap. I wanted to give up, but I couldn’t give up because of my passion. Now I don’t have to throw away food and I don’t have to keep a lot on hand. After work, I can drop off orders with my car. My trunk is always full. My boys do sometimes help me with pick-up. They are proud of me. When I was at the store front, they didn’t see the work I was doing.
Many elders depend on their family members in the Twin Cities to bring African groceries to them. Now they can count on World Mart the store on wheels. I am serving everyone, not just Africans but everyone who likes our products. I have more customers than I had when I had the storefront. It’s a rebirth for me, for the communities. It’s not just about food. We are the leaders in bridging the gap between people, knowledge, cultures, food and much more.