Thinking inside the box: Entrepreneur's search for African snacks sparks new food venture

Tetia Bayoro
Tetia Bayoro started her new subscription snack-delivery service, Chap Chap Snacks, after discovering she couldn't find her favourite African treats in Ottawa stores. Photo courtesy Tetia Bayoro

An Ottawa woman’s fruitless search for the plantain chips, dried mangos and other treats she grew up snacking on in Africa has inspired her to launch a tasty side hustle.

Tetia Bayoro delivered the first batch of products from her new venture, Chap Chap Snacks, last week. The startup sells traditional African snacks on a subscription basis, sending customers a new package of goodies each month tailored to their individual tastes. 

Chap Chap’s eclectic menu features chips made from plantains, yams, sweet potatoes and cassava, a nutty-flavoured root vegetable native to South America. Other offerings include coconut shortbread and dried fruits such as mangos, pineapples, dates and papayas.

An Ivory Coast native, Bayoro said the idea for the subscription-snack service came to her after she and her sister Sayebehi, who also lives in Ottawa, started craving their favourite childhood treats and discovered to their dismay that most were nowhere to be found on store shelves in Canada’s capital.

Figuring she and her sister weren’t the only African immigrants longing for a taste of home, Bayoro had an “aha” moment.

“I was like, ‘That could be a good business idea,’” she said.

A logistics analyst who originally moved to Canada in 2007 to pursue her MBA at Quebec’s Laval University, Bayoro worked in several other Canadian cities, China and her native Ivory Coast before eventually settling here a couple of years ago to be closer to her sister, who was studying engineering at uOttawa.

Then the pandemic hit, sending the world’s economy into a tailspin. With her work projects at a virtual standstill, Bayoro had the opening she needed to pursue her entrepreneurial dreams.

“I was getting bored, and I was like, ‘OK, I need to start working on something.’”

Bayoro began putting together the business plan for Chap Chap last summer. On a whim, she applied for a $5,000 grant from Canada Starts, an initiative funded by RBC, Shopify, Staples and Moneris to help fledgling entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground.

To her surprise, she landed the cash.

'Serious' endeavour

“When I got it, I was like, ‘OK, now this is something I really need to get serious with,’” Bayoro said with a laugh.

After further refining her business plan and securing a $15,000 loan from Futurpreneur Canada, she officially launched Chap Chap – the name comes from an Ivorian slang expression that means “quickly” – late last year. 

At the same time, Bayoro was immersed in a new job as a logistics analyst at Gatineau’s Ideal Protein. She kept plugging away at her own business in her spare time, honing her food-prep skills, lining up suppliers and hammering out countless other details of launching a new business.

Now, more than a year after she first put her plan on paper, her idea is finally a going concern. 

"I know that I’ve set the bar really high, so I need to deliver."

She prepares and packages the snacks herself at Canotek Kitchen in Gloucester, spending one day a week at the shared industrial space. So far, Bayoro says she’s received “really good feedback” on the products.

“I know that I’ve set the bar really high, so I need to deliver,” she added.

Still, her journey hasn’t been without its obstacles.

While Bayoro says the fruits and other items she needs for the treats are readily available in Canada, getting the packaging materials from her source in China has been a more daunting challenge. 

She’s still waiting for half of her first order to cross the Pacific. But as someone who’s made a career of navigating supply-chain headaches, Bayoro is taking the delay in stride.

“Every single day, I’m working with logistics and supply chains, so I see what is happening in the world,” she said.

If her snacks tickle consumers’ taste buds as much as she thinks they will, Bayoro hopes to eventually give up her day job and focus on the venture full-time. Down the road, she also wants to get the goodies into retail stores. 

“With all the green lights I’ve had so far since I started to put the idea on paper, I’m a believer,” Bayoro said.

“If it doesn’t work out, what’s the worst that could happen? I just need to reimburse the credit, and that’s it. But at least I tried something that I really wanted to do."