African Small Pot, Southwest Philly’s Premier West African Restaurant, Endures and Cultivates Community During COVID-19May 23, 2021 07:27PM ● By Nana Ama Addo
A Fulani proverb says ‘Patience can cook a stone.’ Similarly, in business, when things get tough, the test of time, coupled with resilience and persistence, can lead to a breakthrough. Southwest Philadelphia is an area that many call “Southwest Africa” due to its concentrated African population. If you ever chance upon an African restaurant in Southwest Philly, you may notice that many people coming in and out of them are African American. African Small Pot, a Mauritanian restaurant on 6505 Woodland Avenue, is a testament to this. The founder of African Small Pot is Abdarahmane Diop, a Mauritanian-born Fulani who has been working in the hospitality business for over 30 years. FunTimes sat down with Diop to learn about his story of persistence through COVID-19, and insights on the community he has cultivated through his business.
(Diop cooking at African Restaurant)
With the rise of Pan-African films like Black is King, the globalization of modern African music styles, and a growing first and second-generation American population, the gaps between people of the African diaspora are closing. Diop and his sons fuel this fire of connection through their cuisine. Since 2012, African Small Pot’s delicious and authentic Mauritanian, Senegalese, and Nigerian dishes have provided a platform for the diaspora to reunify. “80 to 85% of my customers are Americans, especially African Americans.”, Diop states. Because Diop speaks over 9 languages, including English, Fulani, Wolof, Portuguese, Italian, Arabic, French, Spanish, and American Sign Language, he can connect with even more demographics of the African diaspora.
(Thiebou dien with fish and vegetables)
Diop says COVID had a huge impact on the business, since the beginning of lockdown: “Initially, people were not allowed to eat inside the restaurant. We had to make all of our orders takeout. Initially, we limited everything to UberEats. This helped us continue to sell, but as UberEats take a percentage of our profits, we suffered some losses in that change. In the first few months, we lost 75% of the business. Some days, we didn’t even make $100, and other days we made between $200 and $300. After the first 6 months of doing business with COVID, people started getting used to the pandemic and things got a little bit better.”
Community plays a huge role in the welfare of African families. Diop and his family continue to support each other greatly. Although the battle is not yet over, their ability to unify allowed them to withstand the initial shock of COVID without COVID-related funds or grants. Diop says: “My sons and I didn’t get stimulus checks. I never tried to get business grants because our community helps each other. We were able to get everything we needed.” He says the business still managed to buy to-go boxes and other items they needed to complete their takeout orders.
(Grilled fish, attieke, fried plantain and salad)
African Small Pot is still gaining momentum from the setback of the pandemic, but the future is bright, as the African diasporan community stands behind it.
If you are ever in the Philadelphia area, stop by African Small Pot and order a meal. Their Maafe, or peanut stew with beef and rice, and Thiebou Dienne, or Wolof rice, and Chicken Yassa dishes will leave excellent first impressions. Visit their website here, and check out their Facebook page here.
This article has been made possible by the Independence Public Media Foundation.
Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Nana Ama tells stories of entrepreneurship and Ghana repatriation at her brand, Asiedua’s Imprint ( www.asieduasimprint.blog ).