Linda Faas got tired of driving to St. Louis to get spices and other ingredients for her African cooking, so she opened Ogbah’s African Market in O’Fallon.
Ogbah is her middle name. She also sells imported clothing, hats, souvenirs, rugs, backpacks, masks, soaps and lotions.
“I figured all the Africans in this area would benefit from having a local store so they wouldn’t have to drive to St. Louis like I was doing,” said Faas, 34, of Belleville, who grew up in Nigeria.
The small store is in a yellow-sided storefront at 110 W. State St. It opened in September.
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One of Faas’s customers is Queen Okalanwa, 31, of Swansea, whose husband is Nigerian. She has bought African stew seasonings and snacks such as chin chin, a sweet, fried pastry.
“If you’re married to someone, you want to find out what they are used to, and the things in her store help me,” Okalanwa said. “She has the seasonings for the traditional foods that make them taste good and very close to the original dishes.”
Ogbah’s is open Wednesdays through Saturdays. The rest of the time, Faas works as a correctional officer at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center in East St. Louis.
Another customer is the Rev. Don Andreasen, Faas’s pastor at O’Fallon Assembly of God.
“We came for the grand opening, and I bought a wooden giraffe,” he said. “My wife said, ‘My teacher friend would love it,’ so we gave it to her. I will have to get another one.”
Nothing is the same. Every piece of clothing is different. They’re handmade. They’re not made by a machine. They’re original.
Queen Okalanwa on clothing at Ogbah’s African Market
Faas was born in the United States while her parents were attending Bible school in Springfield, Missouri. They returned to their Nigerian homeland, where she grew up.
Faas moved back to the United States to live with friends in Louisiana at age 15.
“People said I’d have better opportunities in America since I was a U.S. citizen,” she said.
Faas was attending McNeese State University when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast.
“My job was destroyed,” she said. “I worked at Harrah’s casino, and they offered to relocate us to any of their properties in the United States, so I came to St. Louis.”
Faas later spent seven years traveling the world as a U.S. Navy firefighter then earned master’s degrees in business administration and management. She is rearing two sons, ages 3 and 6, and a nephew and working on her doctorate online.
Faas started her law-enforcement career at St. Louis County Jail before getting the prison job six months ago.
“She’s a go-getter,” her pastor said. “She’s energetic, and she has energetic kids. She’s been part of our church for three or four years now.”
Ogbah’s African Market is extremely colorful, between its bright-yellow walls and racks of imported clothing, such as dashiki shirts and boo boo dresses. Faas sells handmade jewelry, but it’s not from Africa.
“It’s really nice to have a store that’s not your normal mall store,” Okalanwa said. “Nothing is the same. Every piece of clothing is different. They’re handmade. They’re not made by a machine. They’re original.”
Food items at Ogbah’s include spices for pepper soup and jolloff rice and ingredients for garri, bantu soup and other African recipes.
Beyond selling products, Faas wants to help local residents learn about African culture. She plans to have special events, such as a poetry night on Jan. 20.
“Most of the customers I’ve had are African Americans, but I’ve also had some curious citizens who just came in to see what we have,” she said.