Bintimani is a Black owned restaurant operated by Sierra Leonean natives, wife-and-husband duo Baindu and Sahr Josiah-Faeduwor. Earlier this year, Bintimani, a pillar of Boston’s West African dining scene at the time, was forced to leave the space they’ve called home since 2009.
We caught up with their son, Aiyah to find out more about a situation that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming.
Briefly describe your parent’s journey to the US?
My dad came from Sierra Leone, West Africa in the late 70’s on a student visa with the goals of becoming an engineer, starting a family, and pursuing the “American Dream.” By his 30’s, he had amassed 5 advanced degrees in the agriculture and engineering fields, been working for NASA, and he and my mom were forming a solid foundation for me and my 4 siblings to reap the benefits of their sacrifice.
However, life happened, my parents separated, and my Dad was awarded custody of 5 children under the age of 13. Unable to maintain jobs in such a highly demanding industry, my Dad was forced to figure out another way to support his family. As we hauled our worldly possessions into a small Uhaul, we came to Boston, to live with my aunt, and it seemed my parents’ American Dream was all but deferred.
What challenges did your parents face as immigrant entrepreneurs?
In 2008 my dad eventually re-married, and he and my step-mom, a recent Sierra Leonean immigrant, chose to be entrepreneurs, as not many “traditional” career paths were available to either of them given their various constraints.
They started a fresh fruit market in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, which eventually became a West African Cuisine restaurant they named “Bintimani” after Mount Bintimani, the tallest peak in Sierra Leone. As Africans, in a historically and predominantly African-American community, they had much adjusting and learning to do to be “accepted” and supported within this community, not just by residents/potential customers, but also by government and business institutions needed to build capacity.
For much of their 13-year journey, they fought with and against the current, to pass health code requirements, in a dilapidated and neglected building, within a significantly under-resourced and overpoliced community. Through determination and quality cuisine, they built a strong and loyal customer base that ultimately garnered the recognition of trusted critics like Boston Eater, which in 2019 named Bintimani one of New England’s 38 Essential Restaurants and featured regularly in their publication.
It would have seemed that my family, even though pivoted and delayed, was on its way to the destination my parents dreamed of upon their arrival to the States — until the Boston Real Estate Collaborative (BREC) purchased the building that housed Bintimani for 13 years with the aims of converting the space into luxury co-living apartments.
What sparked the legal battle between your parent’s business and BREC?
Originally BREC communicated their intent was to close the building down for renovations, and then allow the 15 or so East and West African micro-business tenants to apply for tenancy in the new development upon completion. Without guarantees of tenancy, if/when, or a communicated plan for how these businesses would operate in the interim without a physical place of business, the intentions were clear, that this was a de facto gentrification-induced displacement in the newly re-named district of “Nubian Square.”
Out of options, my dad called me, because he had no one else, but also given my background in community engagement around issues facing BIPOC folks, and a current MBA and City Planning student at MIT. I reached out to my community organizing contacts, and the City of Boston municipal network, and we were able to obtain 1 year commitments to not-evict tenants until construction began, giving the businesses a year to sort out their affairs and eventually leave on their own accord.
This pyrrhic victory not only did not yield the ideal outcome of guaranteeing a sustained plan for this group of businesses, but it also position Bintimani as rabble rousers in the eyes of the developers, putting a target on my parents’ back that ultimately resulted in the landlord’s pursuit of their eviction, catalyzed by the pandemic. Unable to keep up with rent, as soon as the moratorium on evictions was lifted, Bintimani was ousted.
How has the community come together to support the business?
Since moving to Providence, Rhode Island in 2009 to attend Brown University as an undergrad, I fell in love with the vibrant, quirky, and deeply interconnected community within the nation’s smallest state. As an involved and engaged community member and agent, by the time of Bintimani’s eviction, I had built a strong network and community of folks who, at the news of my family’s situation, immediately sprung to action offering sympathy and support towards an optimistic outcome.
Buff Chace, of Cornish Associates, a real estate company that owned many of the buildings in downtown Providence, reached out and offered my family tenancy in a prime location at 326 Westminster St, in the heart of downtown. Grateful and honored we gladly accepted the offer and set our sights on moving the family, and our business to Providence. The Boston Globe covered our story, and this led to an even stronger outpouring of support that both encouraged and affirmed the transition to be one that was born from turmoil but had the potential to be an even more fruitful and ideal location for our family business.
What is the status of the business now?
Since being offered tenancy, we’ve sought to raise the necessary funds to complete the build out and fit out of our space at 326 Westminster. We have utilized WeFunder, a crowd-sourced investment platform to raise $50,000 towards the build, as well as successfully obtained a $99,000 microloan from the Papitto Foundation to support capital costs.
In addition to fundraising, we have begun catering to the RI and MA areas, and have hosted pop ups with community partners in Providence to get our cuisine out to this new market that we’re still learning about and meeting as a new business in the already vibrant culinary scene.
What are your future plans and how can we support you?
Given the ups and downs of our experience, and my background as an urban planner, and believer in the value of community-centered entrepreneurship, we have incorporated into our business plan, and the physical build of our space, the need to support BIPOC entrepreneurs as a critical component of business model.
To this end, we expect to host guest-chefs and vendors, as well as community agents, to utilize and share our space as a launch point, incubator, and community node, that operates to return the value that has been invested in us to land on our feet in this new community. In order to make this possible, we still have a long ways to go towards our needed goal of raising $400K for the build out of our space. What helps most currently is an investment in our WeFunder, contributions to our GoFundMe, and/or support and connection to capital for owners with high-risk creditworthiness.
Beyond the financial support, opportunities and platforms to share our story have been critical to our growing support, and we would greatly appreciate all support to reach more folks who resonate with our story of sacrifice, struggle, and deeply rooted belief in the immense power of community.