Imagine moving to a new country, on a new continent, not knowing any of the language. What would you do?
Bisharo Al knew the journey from Somalia to America would not be an easy one, but it was a risk she was willing to take to start a new chapter in her family’s life.
“The last years of life before I leave the country were very horrible. It was an unsafe place to live,” Al shared during a phone interview. “I get courage to get to America. I’m so happy to be here.”
Al, her husband, and their children moved to Buffalo in 2010. “It was difficult for me to recognize one, two, three,” she shared about the language barrier. Though her English is broken, it has come far. “It was very tough, but I was one of the luckiest people. I’m from war country and not get injured or die. I always know what is behind me. I am one of the fortunate.”
To earn a living, her husband found a job driving taxis and Al found a job sharing her culture with the community. She established her own business, Najah, which translates to “success,” and created two types of sauce using special spices, such as fenugreek and tamarind. She started with her family's version and provided samples to people to get their feedback.
“I learn from people. I get a lot of encouragement,” she said.
The spices she uses provide health benefits to those consuming her sauces. Research shows fenugreek, which has a sweet taste, can help with a variety of health issues, such as digestive problems, heart health, infections, diabetes, injuries, and high blood pressure.
“In my culture, if someone gets sick or has injury, they treat us with fenugreek. It helps take out bad bacteria from infection. You have a better chance to heal up quickly if you take fenugreek more often,” Al said.
Tamarind, which has a sour taste, is said to help with abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, inflammation, and more.
After finalizing the recipes, Al networked her way to getting her product approved by the Cornell Cooperative Extension, meeting with SUNY Buffalo State College’s Small Business Development Center and locating a production company outside of Rochester to make her sauces.
“As we welcome refugees and immigrants from all over the world to Buffalo, they are going to want to have products that they are comfortable with, just like we might want a hamburger or mac and cheese in a different country,” shared Cindi Thomason, senior business adviser at SUNY Buffalo State College’s Small Business Development Center. “Supporting small food entrepreneurs is also one of the primary ways we can incorporate new Americans into our communities and also help them achieve financial sustainability and security.”
Recently, Al secured her own space in the Broadway Market to make her product herself, which is more economical for her and her family.
“I feel so proud. I had good people who helped me and I did hard work. I am continuously progressing and I tell myself I am doing very well.”
Her all-natural product is now being sold at a variety of stores, including the Broadway Market (999 Broadway, Buffalo), Guercio & Sons (250 Grant St., Buffalo), Super Bazaar (3218 Sheridan Drive, Amherst) and Walden Halal Groceries (57 Walden Ave., Buffalo).
“Producing and getting a food product to market, even in smaller markets, is no small feat, and Bisharo has been diligent in making sure she understands and correctly follows all the appropriate rules and regulations designed to ensure the product is safely produced. She was so determined to be successful in her business that she has navigated a very tough regulatory terrain that sometimes causes clients who are much more familiar with the language and customs of this country to give up on the process,” Thomason said.
“My plan is to share with all American stores,” Al said. “I know it’s not easy, but you never know. I know I have good quality.”
She also hopes to someday have a factory to make her sauce and to appear on “Shark Tank,” a television series that airs on ABC and provides entrepreneurs a chance to present their products to five potential investors.
“I have good ingredients and already have approval by health department and Cornell. Maybe in a few more years I will have enough foundation to show my work.”