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Rahim Diallo

Rahim Diallo

Rahim is co-founder of Ginjan Bros, a New York-based business aiming to change perceptions of African cuisine in the US.

Rahim is co-founder of Ginjan Bros, a New York-based business aiming to change perceptions of African cuisine in the US.


One half of a juicing duo determined to elevate African cuisine

Rahim Diallo is one half of Ginjan Bros ­– Harlem-based organic juice producers who are aiming to corner the market in African-inspired food and beverages in the US and beyond. He talks to us about starting a company on a shoestring budget and growing it with “a little light deception”.

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When Rahim Diallo and his brother Mohammed moved to America in their teens, they were struck with how difficult it was to find African foods in mainstream stores. And in particular, they missed ginjan, a ginger and pineapple juice that had been a favourite of theirs since their childhood in Guinea.

They were also frustrated with the way that trade between Africa and the west was perceived. “[Companies] buy produce from farmers in Ghana and Togo, and then their big marketing spiel is [that they’re] building them wells, or schools. And [people] think, ‘That's so cool, they are helping those poor people in Africa’. But when I read that, I'm insulted. Why can't farmers in developing countries be treated the same way [as farmers in the US]: pay them fairly, give them more money for their crops, so they can deploy the money where they see fit.” The best way to change this narrative, they decided, was by starting their own company.

They were confident that there was a market in the US for African products. “These goods that the western customer is looking for — fresh, organic, preservative free — are things that are pretty much the default in the way we grew up.” And yet, despite how widely raw materials from Africa are consumed, “there is no brand profile that elevates African cuisine.”

So they set about building one. Although their long-term goal is ambitious — “to make African inspired products, flavours, [and] aesthetics a ubiquitous part of the global culture” — they had a limited budget, and knew that they had to start smaller.

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No ordinary business podcast

Rahim is a regular guest on Making It Work – your no-nonsense, straight-talking business podcast.

As Rahim was already working in the food and beverage industry as a bar manager, their childhood juice seemed like the perfect place to begin. “We called our mom to tell us how to make it. Because [although] we drank it our whole lives, we'd never really made it.”

Armed with the recipe, Rahim found a way a get honest opinions of the drink: “We would make it in a water jug and take it to the bar, and I would introduce it to customers that I had built a good rapport with, without telling them that it's mine, so that they'd give an honest opinion.”

The feedback was positive, and so they decided to move forward. Quitting their jobs wasn’t an option at this stage, as they were relying on the income from their paychecks to get the business going. “For almost four years, we just worked and saved […] and pumped it back into the business.”

“I think the greatest mentor you can have is Google."

Knowing no one they could ask for advice, they turned to the Internet to find out how to keep things in motion. “I think the greatest mentor you can have is Google. […] In the age of the Internet, the mentor–mentee relationship doesn't have to be with someone that necessarily even knows you exist. Now you can find a person that that you admire […] and you’ll probably find material on them — podcasts, YouTube videos, talks they've given, or blogs they've written — [and] you can go and consume all of that at your own pace.”

Rahim puts his self-reliant attitude down to his educational background. “I’m an engineer by training, and it’s the perfect training for entrepreneurship, in that, essentially what you do is look at problems, break them down into their component parts, and put them back together.”

But while the practical aspects of setting up a business didn’t faze him, there were other challenges. “It’s the emotional component that’s very hard. The stress of balancing a lack of money, relationships with people you’re working with, and when all of that is happening, your life doesn’t stop.”

In 2015, they received their first $25,000 investment, and in the same year they sold their first bottle of juice at a street festival, capturing the moment by taking a photograph with the buyer. Fridge space in a number of local grocery and natural food stores followed, achieved with personal visits armed with product samples and a persuasive pitch.

The following year, they significantly expanded their customer base by getting their product into Whole Foods using a little light deception: “They wanted us to get a distributer first, and distributers usually want you to have accounts first. They knew we were talking to Whole Foods, so they said ‘get Whole Foods [as an account], and we’ll bring you in!’ So, we told Whole Foods we had a distributor, and we told the distributor that Wholefoods [had] said yes!”

Needing more investment to fuel further growth they turned to equity crowdfunding. “We raised about $182,000. […] We had spent a lot of that money already. The rest of it we opened our first coffee shop with.”

Ginjan Café opened in Harlem in 2019. It is designed as “a space where, from the décor, to the music, to the food we serve, [and] the type of hospitality we offer, [it’s] an immersive experience of the vision of Africa we're trying to communicate to people.” On a more practical level, they are also counting on the café to strengthen their brand profile. And, of course, it’s somewhere for Rahim to try out new recipes on the customers.

Ginjan Bros is now growing rapidly. They have sold over 100,000 bottles of juice, launched three more flavours, and plan to open four more cafés in New York. But their ambitions don’t stop there: “Over time, we want to start setting up shop over there [in Africa], to produce for local consumption, as well as for export. And also try to give small farmers the skill-sets, the know-how, to be able to plug themselves into the global supply chain.”

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Want to hear more from Rahim?

Rahim Diallo is a regular guest on Making It Work – the podcast featuring remarkable entrepreneurs who tell it like it is.

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