The Food Guy: 3 Women Entrepreneurs Providing Inspiration

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Food startups are typically born when founders see a gap in the marketplace, and in Chicago, startups are making the community richer, including three led by women of color.

One of the businesses, Ayo Foods, was born with a specific mission.

Perteet and Fred Spencer wanted to create a company that reflected Perteet's Liberian heritage, but also would make the grocery aisle feel more inclusive to their daughters.

“Sharing our love letter to West Africa. The line is inspired by the recipes that I grew up eating,” she stated.

Groundnut Stew, Chicken Yassa and mouth-numbing Pepper Sauce are just a few of their creations – some collaborations with African celebrity chefs. The business grew more than 800 percent during the pandemic.

“We knew that the market was ready for a more diverse set of flavors. When we talk about the flavors of West Africa it’s not a monolith at all. It’s 17 different countries, all with its own unique flavors and traditions,” Perteet said.

On the West Side, near Garfield Park, The Hatchery is a food incubator, helping entrepreneurs like Danielle Tubbs realize their dreams. In this case, a line of Jamaican-inspired vegan cookies.

“And so when I started baking on my own after college and moving to Chicago, I realized that a lot of the flavors I was drawn to were those flavors of home,” said Tubbs, owner of Tubby’s Taste.

A Jamaican in Florida doesn’t necessarily mean jerk chicken all the time either.

“I grew up with fresh coconut trees outside of my front door, fresh sugar cane on the side of my yard, mangoes,” she said.

Those flavors directly influenced her product line.

“Coconut oatmeal cinnamon, ginger molasses, a mango coconut lime and an ode to Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee which is our mocha oat chocolate chip.”

Another small business at The Hatchery is Cocoa Chili Foods, the brainchild of Niquenya Collins.

“I had been a master business coach, a life skills strategist for the past 25 years. How can I use my love of cooking along with my love of helping people and kind of marry them together,” said Collins.

The business began with a jerk sauce, but quickly expanded to encompass Afro-Caribbean soul food, available for pickup, delivery or catered events. One of her favorites is a dish from Senegal.

“Senegalese Poulet Yassa - it’s a stewed dish of chicken but it also has sweet onions, jalapeño peppers and it has a sweet, lovely, lemony mustard flavor to it,” she said.

Here's where you can go:

Ayo Foods


Tubby’s Taste Jamaican-inspired vegan cookies

Urban Market, 1001 W. Chicago Ave.

Sugar Beet Food Co-Op, 812 Madison St., Oak Park

The company also ships nationwide.


Cocoa Chili Foods


135 N. Kedzie Ave. (inside The Hatchery)


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