In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak with Fannie Gibson of Fannie’s West African Cuisine in Kansas City, Missouri. Gibson shares with us how she developed a full-service restaurant after starting a successful mail-order business.
Clover: Hello Fannie! Can you tell us about how you started Fannie’s West African Cuisine?
Fannie Gibson: I am originally from West Africa, Liberia to be specific. Growing up we did not have much but we always found a way. My grandmother took special care to always make sure we had enough to eat. Watching her struggle and still make her way when there seemed to be none taught me that anything was possible. She became my inspiration and still is. My love for cooking comes from my grandmother, and I brought her traditional recipes with me to Kansas City. There wasn’t any West African cuisine available, so I started cooking food for myself, my friends, and my family. I started posting on Instagram and Facebook a few years ago. People loved the photos and asked if I could ship the food. That’s how my business started.
In April of 2018, my dream of owning a restaurant came true and Fannies West African Cuisine opened to the public. Finally, an authentic restaurant with food I grew up on, shared with many people from different walks of life, all together under one roof.
Clover: Can you tell us about the food you serve? What are some customer favorites?
Gibson: West African food is primarily plant based, since back home we would grow our own fresh produce. Many of the foods on the menu include rice or fufu. Rice is a staple food for West Africans which we eat with different vegetables. Fufu (dumpling like made out of cassavas, yams, and plantains) is more traditional, and eaten with soups. Jollof and puff puff are few of our most popular dishes. Puff puffs are small doughnut balls, sweet enough to eat alone but delicious with our signature pepper sauce. Jollof is made with mixed vegetable and tomato sauce with a side of plantains and vegetables. Customers go crazy over Jollof in particular.
Clover: Are most of your customers familiar with West African cuisine?
Gibson: Surprisingly, many customers are familiar with the dishes. Many do their own research before coming to try the food. Recently, there was a “fufu challenge” on TikTok, so many new customers are coming in to try egusi (a traditional Nigerian dish) and fufu. Google, YouTube, and TikTok have helped with popularizing the many different dishes common in our cuisine.
Clover: Can you tell us how you use Clover?
Gibson: We were growing as a business and needed a more powerful point-of-sale system than the one we were using. Clover tracks what I was most concerned about: inventory. It makes things easier and it works smoothly. One way that Clover has really helped us is by understanding what our most popular items are, which helps us plan our ordering to minimize waste.
We use three different Clover stations at Fannie’s. We have the Station, the Mini, and the Flex. We use the Flex to take orders and also to ring up the customer right at the table. Everyone appreciates the convenience.
Clover: How has the pandemic affected your business?
Gibson: Dining rooms are closed to customers. Carryout and delivery are the new normal, and thankfully are going strong to offset the reduced foot traffic.
Clover: What’s next for Fannie’s?
Gibson: I think the pandemic has changed the way people are eating at restaurants; I don’t think people are going to come back to dining in at the levels they were before. We will continue carry out and delivery, and will change our seating arrangements and capacity as guidelines shift.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life experiences of small businesses in action all over the country.