Meet Pierre Thiam, Founder & CEO of Yolele!
Once per month, we feature a Black entrepreneur on our blog and our social media as part of an ongoing effort to amplify awareness for Black-founded brands.
What is Yolélé?
Yolélé & Teranga
What’s the origin story of Yolélé?
Yolélé came from the realization that there needed to be an African food brand for the amazing, nutritious and underutilized crops of Africa. The idea is to connect the small farmers community that grow those crops to a global market. Our first ingredient platform is fonio. It's an ancient grain that's resilient, drought resistant, and regenerates the soil. Fonio is very nutritious and cooks in 5 minutes. We have a line of fonio products, including pilafs and chips with flavors inspired by the good tradition of West Africa.
How did you go from having an idea for a company to being a founder? What made you take the leap?
When I first arrived NYC in the late 80s, I began working in various restaurants of the city that called itself the food capital of the world. However, I realized early on that Africa was the big absent of that world. Growing up in Senegal, I was exposed to a beautiful, diverse and nutritious food culture. It became a mission for me to bring it to the world's food capital. I tested the waters with a catering business that was serving those West African flavors. Then in the early 2000s, I opened my first restaurant in Bed Stuy (Brooklyn). That restaurant, also named Yolélé, quickly became a destination. I was serving the exciting flavors of my childhood. Many recipes, were from my family (mother, aunts etc.)
That's when I decided to write my first cookbook, which was based on those recipes, that I saw the bigger opportunity. As I was writing the recipes, I often had to think of substitutions for ingredients that were not accessible to the market. That's when the idea of creating a company that will make these ingredients accessible came to be. I knew that I wanted to start with fonio. It was checking all the boxes: gluten-free, versatile, cooks in 5 minutes, delicate, nutritious. I partnered with Philip Teverow, an acquaintance at the time, and a veteran of the food industry and we launched Yolélé.
Where can we try snacks?
Yolélé is distributed nationwide at Whole Foods, Target, Stop & Shop and many other retailers. We also have a strong online presence with our platform www.yolele.com, Amazon, Fresh Direct, Thrive Market to name a few.