From picking beans in Cameroon to running a coffee business in Minnesota



When Samuel Ngwa was growing up in Cameroon, his father owned seven acres of land. There, he maintained a vegetable garden to feed the family and, to earn money, he planted coffee trees. Although he hates work, young Samuel weeds and picks coffee beans according to instructions. If he didn’t, his father wouldn’t pay his school fees.

But Ngwa thought little of the family’s business culture until the winter of 1973, when he moved to the United States as a foreign student and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. . “Everyone I saw was moving very fast. Most of them were holding these white cups in their hands. Everyone is drinking coffee,” Ngwa recalls.

“I realized that all the time my dad was kicking me to pick beans, people all over the world were drinking coffee. At that moment, I knew I wanted to know more on how the process works.

After earning a master’s degree in industrial technology and management, Ngwa returned to Cameroon, where he made connections with local producers and planned his dive into entrepreneurship. His vision: to sell high quality African beans from responsible sources in the American market. In 1996, the Brooklyn Park resident launched his first line of coffees, which he marketed under the Safari Pride label.

At first, Ngwa focused on single-source beans he obtained from Cameroon and other countries in Africa’s so-called bean belt. Later he added an array of mixes to his repertoire. He says his Azobe Blend – “strong coffee for strong people” – is his most powerful revelation. A blend of Arabica and Robusta beans, the coffee takes its name from the African lowland azobe tree, which produces some of the hardest and most durable woods on the planet.

Like all Ngwa beans, Azobe is available for purchase online (safaripridecoffee.com) and at select restaurants.

Originally, Ngwa operated out of rented space on Franklin Avenue in south Minneapolis. But since 2004, he’s been roasting his beans in a business incubator in an industrial district on the North Side. As well as selling coffees, Ngwa runs a food import business, Dessco International, which sells everything from frozen smoked fish to African spices and palm oils.

About “Making It in Minnesota”: This ongoing series from Sahan Journal will highlight the experiences, challenges and successes of immigrant business owners, in their own words. We would also like to share your company’s story.

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As part of his business, Ngwa used to make one or two trips to Africa every year to secure the product. When COVID-19 first hit, Ngwa was in Cameroon, where he found himself stranded for four months, staring at the walls of his hotel room. He hasn’t been back since and reports that the delays in shipments have become very disruptive to his business.

Ngwa spoke to the Sahan Journal about what he learned about adapting to the market, hiring workers and becoming a Minnesotan.

You can go home, until you can’t no more: After graduating, I wanted to go home. But once you step out of your comfort zone and learn something new, you don’t always get back where you left off. I was between and between.

Sometimes the right employee is a temp: I work 12 to 14 hours a day. I have a full time worker, that’s me. I would say I am master cleaner, master roaster, master buyer.

When the shipments arrive, I go to temp agencies. Packing is done by temporary labor.

Relationships are important too: When I started I saw cafes all over the metro area and gave them very lavish samples. I would say 100% of them loved the coffee. But when I came back to take the controls, it was always “Sorry, we’ll continue with the others.”

The first two years, I lost almost everything. I lost so much weight, so much income. I almost gave up until a friend of mine, who met me in my quest for NGO funding, came up to me and said, “You know what? I’ll help.

I told him, “Take 20% of what you sell. That’s how I was able to survive.

The first two years, I lost almost everything. I lost so much weight, so much income. I almost gave up until a friend of mine came up to me and said, ‘You know what? I’ll help.

The best plans are fluid: If you go to Somali malls, the cafes there are provided by me. It’s a nice chunk of change. For many years, I focused solely on selling to restaurants.

It sustained me until the pandemic hit. I realized that I had to try to get back into retail. Now we are pushing our cafe on the internet.

In the future, a dream to develop: My plan for the future is to flood the metro area with Safari Pride. Right now it’s only the block around me that smells of my coffee. Most subways don’t know my cafe exists. I never used my roasting equipment to its capacity. It’s like new.

We can roast about a ton more a day. I survived by roasting an average of 200 pounds every two weeks. The ability is waiting to be used.

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