After the unrest that tore through Baltimore in April 2015, Mohammed Agbodjogbe knew he had to do something to help his adopted home city. Since arriving in Baltimore from Senegal in 1999, Agbodjogbe had focused on building a number of businesses and making a better life for himself and his family. Now, he decided, it was time to give back.
Agbodjogbe had operated a successful convenience store and carry-out in downtown Baltimore, but he had bigger plans. In July, he held the grand opening of Nailah’s, a well-appointed restaurant on York Road, just south of Belvedere Square, featuring authentic Senegalese dishes such as lamb and peanut butter stew or Thiebou Djeun, Senegal’s national dish of fish, tomato sauce, vegetables and rice. At the same time, he is developing a long-vacant property at 400 N. Howard St. where he is opening another restaurant, Nailah’s Kitchen, along with an organic market, three floors of apartments, and housing for a nonprofit he is forming called the ASA Foundation. He is branching out with a food truck as well.
The goal of the ASA Foundation, Agbodjogbe says, will be “to empower youth for better education, and also offer them opportunities where they don’t have access to gangs and drugs.” Agbodjogbe says he was dismayed to see how the cycle of poverty and addiction was being transmitted from one generation to the next in so many families in the neighborhood. Maybe, he thought, he could do something to help.
“I want to break that cycle,” he says, “give them some guidance, opportunities where they can believe in themselves.”
To that end, Agbodjogbe has pledged to set aside 25 percent of the profits from the two restaurants for his nonprofit foundation, which he expects to be up and running by the end of September. He plans to use the space for after-school programming during the week, and intends to pay local youths to help clean up the neighborhood on weekends. Some teens may be hired to work in the restaurant part-time. And Agbodjogbe has bigger ambitions: to build the foundation up to the point where he can offer scholarships to promising students.
Agbodjogbe says the Howard Street location is almost ready to open, the only holdup being a dispute with BGE over the cost of bringing gas into the building. Meanwhile, he says, the York Road location is doing well, with carry-out orders coming in a steady stream and dine-in business picking up. Many customers at Nailah’s – named for Agbodjogbe’s young daughter, whose beaming face smiles at patrons from a large photo in the dining room – are already familiar with his native country’s food because another Senegalese eatery, Tam Tam, previously occupied the building.
“The neighborhood has been very welcoming,” Agbodjogbe says.
Community wealth building is an approach to economic development that puts residents and communities first, valuing equity, inclusion, and sustainability. For more information about Strong City’s Community Wealth Building initiative, contact Stephanie Geller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-240-3373.