AYO Foods, the West African frozen food line from Hyde Park couple Frederick and Perteet Spencer, is coming to Mariano’s stores in Chicagoland.
The pair launched AYO last summer, making it the first West African frozen food line in the United States. Perteet said her goal was to create authentic flavors and ingredients from the couple's recipes and West African cuisine.
“I had the benefit of shadowing my mom growing up,” Perteet said. “We felt like there had to be a better way to be able to enjoy this food or cuisine any time of the week, and we knew there were more families that were in the same boat as we are.”
Perteet grew up in a Liberian family, and her father ran an import wholesale business in the Twin Cities. Through her family's experience in the food industry, Perteet saw an interesting shift in the marketplace, with more people looking to buy premium ethnic food.
“The food I grew up eating and enjoyed was not represented,” said Perteet. “We saw an opportunity to bring about an inclusive effort to be able to bring these products to the market.”
Currently, AYO — the name comes from the Yoruban prefix meaning joy — is available at Whole Foods stores on the South Side. Some of the dishes include jollof rice and cassava leaf stew.
While businesses still struggle to survive during the pandemic, the expansion of AYO frozen food line came from hard work and dedication.
“It definitely took a lot of work, but as you’re in it, you don’t realize it’s work,” said Fred.
“We are passionate about bringing this food to the forefront of our food system,” said Perteet. “While it was a lot of heavy-lifting as we are in the process, it’s also so exciting and rewarding to see that payoff.”
“As you look at the broad marketplace, you are seeing growing consumer interest in food that comes from all over the world. … These ingredients, these flavors have really been underrepresented, so we are excited and honored to bring a bit of our heritage to this landscape that is rapidly changing by the day.”