Eden Hagos fondly remembers her mother preparing meals for her family. She would smell the wonderful aroma of spices from the food, run into the kitchen and admire her mother as she cooked.
She was only three when she fell in love with food.
Growing up in Windsor, Ont., Hagos vividly recalls trying to help her mother make Ethiopian bread. When the bread had finished baking and was ready to eat, Hagos would dip a piece into a cup of hot tea.
During holidays and Ethiopian celebrations, Hagos’s father would take her and her sister to a farm to buy a lamb. A butcher would slaughter the animal before they brought it home to the rest of family.
“I would watch my grandmother and my aunts cut every piece of the lamb and find some way to incorporate it into the stew,” she said. “I loved eating it.”
“I would watch my grandmother and my aunts cut every piece of the lamb and find some way to incorporate it into the stew.”
It’s late on a Thursday and Hagos has a seat by the window in a cozy Jamaican restaurant on the Danforth just west of Pape Avenue. Simone’s Caribbean Restaurant, named after the owner, is one of her favourite eateries.
She glances at the menu and orders almost immediately. Her go-to is the jerk chicken with rice and peas and a side of coleslaw with extra hot sauce.
Hagos, 28, is one of the lucky ones. She has turned her passion for food, cooking and eating it, into a career.
Combining her interest in cuisine and her hunger for knowledge of the African diaspora, she has dedicated herself to the evolution of her brand, Black Foodie.
“It is a media and events company. We host content online that showcases food from a black perspective. We cover everything from recipes to think pieces and features on new restaurants. We also create events that curate experiences around food that celebrate black chefs, black caterers and black-owned restaurants,” she said.
As she waits for her meal to arrive, Hagos describes the two inspirations behind creating Black Foodie.
Food and entrepreneurship run in the family
Hagos’s parents were food entrepreneurs. “My parents opened an Ethiopian restaurant in Windsor in the ’90s,” she said.
Her grandparents also owned a cafe and spice market in Eritrea.
Although she grew up in a household where Ethiopian food was a proud part of her culture, she felt a sense of shame around this food in her adolescence and early adulthood.
When celebratory events came around, Hagos would opt for European restaurants instead of African restaurants, with the belief that European venues were better suited for special occasions.
One night while dining out at an Italian restaurant for her birthday with friends, a group of black women, Hagos had a negative experience that left her feeling upset, uncomfortable and threatened.
The encounter made her rethink the way she interpreted food.
With the Black Foodie brand, Hagos’s mission is to be a resource and a connector for people who are interested in food centred around the black identity.
“My mission is to foster a culture that celebrates food created by black people,” she said. “I want to create a space where black stories are told by black people.”
Ellen Cuetti, the head of operations for Black Foodie, knows the enthusiasm that Hagos has for her brand.
“My mission is to foster a culture that celebrates food created by black people. I want to create a space where black stories are told by black people.”
“She’s definitely very passionate, she has a lot of ideas and a lot of experience that fuels where she wants the business to go,” she said.
Overcoming obstacles and focusing on the future goals
Although Black Foodie has a growing profile, Hagos has had her share of challenges with the brand, just like other startups.
“I had to learn how to use social media effectively, create a website, learn how to edit content, get contributors and build a team,” she said.
Hagos also received backlash and public scrutiny after an article was published on the City News website that detailed the story about her negative experience at the Italian restaurant. The restaurant has since closed down.
“I’ve had the challenge of feeling like I had to prove myself, getting negative press, having to defend my experience and my goals,” she said.
“I’ve had the challenge of feeling like I had to prove myself, getting negative press, having to defend my experience and my goals.”
Hagos said the education and work experience she gained before starting Black Foodie gave her the tools she needed to make it a success.
Hagos majored in sociology at York University then went on to do an interdisciplinary fellowship. She was one of 25 young entrepreneurs picked from across Ontario to participate in this program.
In this fellowship, the new graduates were able to network and explore their ideas for innovations, leading her to work for non-profit organizations and in social-media management.
Kema Joseph, content co-ordinator for Black Foodie, joined the brand to be a part of a cultural movement and believes Hagos is changing the way black people perceive and appreciate food.
“She tapped into something that is so mundane, but at the same time so important to our culture and identity,” Joseph said.
Hagos’s Black Foodie journey is far from over. She plans to do more traveling to help her better understand the black diaspora through food.
Her goals include taking the Black Foodie brand international, with the intention of gaining more knowledge, sharing her experience, and meeting other black foodies who have the same hunger for information focused around black food.
“Within the next three years, I would also like to do events on a larger scale, by taking our parties and competition and incorporating them into a food festival,” Hagos said.