Ottawa and the surrounding region have become a bit of a beverage hotbed in recent years, spawning a number of craft breweries, vineyards and even an old-fashioned soda company.
If one local entrepreneur has her way, Ottawa will also soon be known for a different kind of beverage offering – traditional African drinks.
In less than two years, Marie Pierre Faye, founder and CEO of Faye Beverage, has already positioned herself as one of the capital’s rising food and beverage entrepreneurs.
Born and raised in the west African country of Senegal, Faye moved to Canada for university after graduating from high school in her home country. After spending a year in Toronto, she moved to the capital for what she calls “a better opportunity” to study at the University of Ottawa. The fourth-year mathematics and finance student is expected to graduate this December and plans to continue growing her company while also venturing into small-business banking.
Although Faye readily embraced her new home, there was one thing lacking in Canada – she was unable to find the traditional drinks and products she grew up with back in Senegal.
Using her business instincts, she pounced on the opportunity to produce and promote traditional African drinks to the Canadian market in a healthy way.
"It was really hard to find African products. So I thought, ‘Why not start a beverage business and bring the African juices to the Canadian people?’"
“I was looking to do something to bring the African culture to Canada because I wasn’t able to get any African drinks in Canada when I moved here,” Faye says. “It was really hard to find African products. So I thought, ‘Why not start a beverage business and bring the African juices to the Canadian people?’”
Her flagship product is a hibiscus juice called Jogo Juice, a traditional drink known in Africa as bissap and in the Caribbean as sorrel. She came up with “Jogo” by combining the names of her parents, who were early investors in the venture and supported her in everything she did.
“It’s like orange juice,” she explains. “We drink it every single day back home – breakfast, lunch, dinner. So when I moved here, it was like I lost a part of me.”
Faye started her company near the end of 2018 when she was 19, selling the drinks at a store on the University of Ottawa campus after striking a deal with the manager. She also set up shop at farmers’ markets, offering free samples in order to introduce Ottawans to the African and Caribbean staple.
'We want to be like Coca-Cola'
The first-time entrepreneur has quickly taken a family recipe she learned when she was young and turned it into a small yet growing enterprise producing vegan, plant-based drinks out of a Boyd Avenue kitchen she shares with another local food and beverage company in Ottawa’s west end.
Jogo Juice is currently available online and at seven locations in Ottawa as well as a gourmet grocery store in Montreal. Faye hopes her juices eventually make their way onto store shelves across the country and eventually around the globe.
In fact, she cites the world’s No. 1 beverage brand as a company she hopes to emulate when it comes to market reach.
“We want to be like Coca-Cola,” Faye says. “Why not? It’s possible. In the next five years, we want to supply (Jogo Juice) in America and after that, everywhere around the world."