Q&A: ‘Liberian Girl’ Creates Peace Cafe To Foster Youth Entrepreneurship

Written by Kevin Mwanza

As a result of Liberia’s civil unrest Barkue Tubman, the granddaughter of the late and distinguished former President of Liberia, William V.S Tubman Sr, moved to the U.S. in 1980. But even after several years of schooling in the land of dreams and building a very successful career as a talent manager in a male dominated music industry in the U.S., Tubman love for her mother country saw her move back in 2007 to find a country grappling to recover from decades of war.

Barkue Tubman [Photo: bbc.co.uk]
Barkue Tubman
Using her talent and valuable experience in the U.S. Tubman has worked with notable personalities in the country, including the President Of Liberia & Nobel Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to help rebuild the country and cultivate an environment of responsible governance, entrepreneurial capitalism and use of creative arts to build a sense of community.

Above all these achievements,  in 2013 she founded the Peace Cafe, a Starbucks style quaint little café in the country’s capital Monrovia that seeks to foster young entrepreneurs & develop a sustainable Liberian coffee export design. With the same Midas touch that she had with her other ventures in the U.S., the Peace Cafe has grown immensely popular in a short amount of time, and could soon be franchised in other parts of Liberia and Africa.

AFKInsider had a chat with this “Liberian girl” about her Peace Cafe venture and how it emulates the changing business environment in Liberia.

AFKInsider: What made you start the peace cafe in Liberia?

Tubman: Most of my work and businesses are derived from my personal desires that I also see as a solution to something or the other and that could also contribute to the greater good.   It was about bringing something new and exciting to Liberia that I was missing, (My daily urban café / starbucks fix), in my daily life and this would also expose the young people and others to other cultures that were happening throughout the world.  Not to mention like most developing nations the droves of Expats and international agencies that are in Liberia who also craved that coffee/ café culture.

Did I feel it would make me rich right away, not exactly But I saw peace café as a creative means that would not only specialize in top quality customer serve, which we know is a challenge in Africa, quality mostly Liberian food products but also a way to showcase Liberian made products, not limited to food stuff, but also Liberian made merchandise benefiting non profits and eventually develop a structure where the young employees can own shares.  The long-term strategy after building the brand is to develop peace café brand products to sell locally and internationally that would have a social impact on communities.  Then the big bucks will come later.

AFKInsider: What were the initial costs and has the venture paid off?

Tubman: Initial cost was $40,000.  And might I add Initial doing business in Africa, Liberia to be specific many challenges.  Has it paid off???  That’s a double edge answer, Financially not yet, Branding awareness and credibility … definitely.. However I would mostly say yes, we break even most months. We’ve built a brand,  a Liberian brand that stands for quality and service and has value.  We’ve managed to expose Liberian creative talents from the selling of goods and also our monthly-unplugged open mic series featuring Liberian artist.   We’d have created the demand for the peace café food and specialty drink products. The goal is to build a brand that can expand in to more locations so mastering the art of peace café operations and what makes us special was the focus for year one.

AFKInsider: What are some of the main challenges that the Peace Cafe as a business in Liberia faced?

Tubman: Our biggest challenge, electricity; the cost consumes over 65% of your operations expenses.  City power is way too expense but less expensive then a generator although, needless to say you have to have both. Eventually I came to realize although I was in very close proximity to the foreign Embassies and other international organizations we were still a bit out of the way.   The other challenge was procuring goods from the stores, they tend to switch up products and brands, they are non consistent so having to make sure what was on the menu was consistent in products used was tough at times.. we prefer specific ingredients and having to look in several places before finding that specific brand, But we are a small country and I have contacts so we made it work

AFKInsider: If you were to go back to Peace Cafe’s inception, is there anything you’ll have done differently?

Tubman: A Different location that probably would be the only major thing I would have done differently. There will always be lessons learned, and I intend to learn and educate my team continually as well as look for ways to better not only peace café but also all my businesses.  Not only would I do this different it’s happening we are moving to 17th street and Tubman blvd a great part of the city

AFKInisder: Are there plans to scale the peace cafe beyond Liberia? and what countries would be looking to venture into?

Tubman: That’s the ultimate goal ideally I would like to go into Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and the USA. 

AFKInsider: In terms of employment what other sectors do you think Liberia needs to focus on to reduce youth unemployment?

Tubman: First and foremost Tourism then the creative industries (marketing, graphic design, PR, event Planning, entertainment). also Information Technology.

AFKInsider: What would be your advice to African youth who wish to venture into such a business?

Tubman: The café in a country like Liberia is not a multi million dollar business but for me it’s phase one of building the Peace café brand that will eventually export Liberian made products Coffee, meringue, honey and doing it as a poverty reduction & empowerment initiative where we financially empower the local producers and also promote and sell Liberian products to the rest of the world. So my advice would be having a plan, a strategy that leads to expansion and growth. My other advice would be to start small and finish big.  Build a brand !!  Entrepreneurs need to build brands not just a business