Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/6/2016 (1351 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Bryan Akindipe was standing in the lobby of his church a couple of weeks ago, waiting for his wife, Temi, and their two young sons, Aviel and Adley.
He was chatting with another parishioner who is also originally from Nigeria. During their dialogue, the man wondered if Akindipe was aware a number of grocery stores in Winnipeg were carrying Agege bread — a dense, appetizing foodstuff that is served with almost every meal in their native country.
The fellow mentioned it was the only bread his children would eat, and his family was presently devouring five or six loaves a week.
"You should have seen the look on his face when I told him the bread came from my place," says Akindipe, who, together with Temi, runs Arabelle’s Bakery & Catering at 1284 Archibald St., home of the "Lagos Loaf," the name the couple came up with for their signature product.
"He raced off to grab his kids then brought them back saying, ‘I want you to meet the person who makes the bread you guys love so much.’"
Akindipe moved to Winnipeg in September 2003 to attend the University of Winnipeg. The son of one of his mother’s friends was a student there at the time, he explains, and had nothing but praise for the city and the Portage Avenue campus.
"What’s surprising is he didn’t say anything about the winters," Akindipe says, pretending to shiver. "The first time I experienced minus 20 I thought, ‘OK, maybe that should have been the first thing he talked about.’"
One afternoon during his second semester, Akindipe noticed Temi sitting by herself in the library. Because he hadn’t met many black people since arriving in Canada, he paused to introduce himself.
It turned out the two had a fair bit in common. They were both from Lagos, a major metropolis of an estimated 16 million people. Both were in their first year of studies and both intended to go into nursing after earning an undergraduate degree.
The pair had such a friendly exchange, Akindipe recalls, by the time he had to leave and head back to class, Temi had agreed to join him for dinner the following week, when they could continue their conversation.
So the two headed out, got along famously and lived happily ever after, right? Not exactly.
"She totally stood me up," Akindipe says, playfully poking his wife in the ribs. "I went to the restaurant, waited 30 minutes and nothing. Not even a phone call."
(In her defence, Temi doesn’t remember their rendezvous being set in stone. "I was too busy with my schoolwork to even think about boyfriends, anyways," she says.)
In 2006, Akindipe was in his second year at the University of Manitoba’s College of Nursing. While strolling around the grounds one fall morning he spotted a familiar face.
"Hey, Temi," he called out. "Whatever happened to our date?"
Hoping history wouldn’t repeat itself, he asked Temi, a first-year nursing student at the time, out again. They tied the knot two years later.
After graduating, Akindipe went to work as a nurse at St. Boniface General Hospital. Whenever he ran into ex-pat Nigerians — staff members and patients alike — he would ask what they enjoyed about their adopted country and what they missed about "home."
Funnily enough, one of the things that always seemed to come up in regards to the latter was bread, he says.
"Most of the breads you get in Canada have no flavour, to me, because the idea here seems to be for the bread to be neutral and for whatever you eat with the bread — be it soup or chili — to determine the flavour," he says.
"In Africa, the bread has its own distinct taste. So after hearing person after person tell me they rarely ate bread anymore for just that reason, it gave me an idea: I know how to bake; why don’t I make what they’re looking for?"
According to www.vegannigerian.com, Agege bread, so-dubbed for a suburb on the outskirts of Lagos, is "loved for its dense texture and ‘moreishly’ sweet taste." The website’s founder, Nigerian-born chef Tomi Makanjuola, also writes, "You’d be hard-pressed to find a Lagosian who isn’t fond of it and who hasn’t used it to mop up some peppery stew or steeped it in a mug of hot tea."
“No matter what class you belong to, everyone eats the same bread and we’re hoping to introduce that mentality to Canadians, too.”
For close to a year starting in 2011, Akindipe rushed home from his shift at the hospital and headed straight into the kitchen, where he often prepared bread until the wee hours of the morning. His template was the bread he grew up with, he says, but he was adamant about putting his own spin on it so the end-product would appeal to a wider audience than Africans.
"I come from a science background so I spent a lot of time experimenting... breaking the bread down and trying out different combinations of ingredients. I did that for months and probably gave away as many as 200 loaves to friends and family, saying, ‘Give this a try and let me know what works or doesn’t work.’"
He still remembers the night everything clicked. His mother-in-law was visiting from Nigeria, he gave her a couple of slices of his latest batch to eat with dinner and after taking one bite, she looked at him and announced he’d nailed it.
Temi, who used to work at St. Amant, was on maternity leave with the couple’s second child in 2014. The Akindipes decided that would be a perfect opportunity to see if they could take Bryan’s creation "to the next level."
They rented space at Knox Community Kitchen on Edmonton Street and with the help of Buy Manitoba, Temi began knocking on doors in an attempt to persuade store owners to stock their fare.
She knew she had a hit on her hands, she says, whenever managers were too busy chowing down to pay attention to her sales pitch. (The Lagos Loaf is available in 13 Winnipeg locations, including four Red River Co-op supermarkets. For a complete list, go to www.arabellesbakery.com.)
Akindipe still works full-time as a clinical resource nurse but Temi quit her job to run the bakery, which opened in February. Besides three types of Agege bread — white, whole-wheat and rye — the couple sells a variety of other goods, including cookies, meat pies and cinnamon buns.
One British chap from St. James makes the pilgrimage to Windsor Park at least once a week, Temi says, to pick up a half-dozen Scotch eggs for his lunches.
"In Nigeria, bread is one of those things that brings everyone to the table — rich or poor," Akindipe says, seated near a blown-up photo of his and Temi’s hometown, which hangs on the wall near the cash register.
"No matter what class you belong to, everyone eats the same bread and we’re hoping to introduce that mentality to Canadians, too."
Oh, about Arabelle, the name they chose for their biz: when Temi was pregnant with the couple’s second child, they were both so certain it was going to be a girl, they didn’t bother coming up with a boy’s name.
"We were going to call her Arabelle but when that didn’t happen, I filed the name away on my phone for safe-keeping," Akindipe says.
"A couple of years later, when we started tossing around names to call the bakery, we agreed starting a business is similar to having a child in lots of ways. You have to nurture it along, there’s a tremendous financial commitment involved but there’s joy and reward along the way, too.
"So now when people ask we joke we have three children: Aviel, Adley and Arabelle."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
Updated on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at 12:53 PM CDT: fixes typo