When Salif Keita left his native Mali nearly two decades ago, his first stop was France. His cousin lived in Paris, which is where Salif discovered melt-in-your-mouth crepes. Eighteen months later, Salif moved again, this time to Harlem, NY. He worked countless hours as a pizza delivery guy so he could “save and save and save” to start his own small business.
Salif’s dedication and determination paid off. Bringing together two of his favorite circular foods, today Salif is the proud owner of Oui, Oui Crepes and Pizza. Although his days are long and he gets by without much sleep, running his own business lets Salif achieve two dreams at once. He’s officially his own boss – and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Just as important? Salif is deeply committed to giving back to his community by building a safe (and scrumptious!) haven for kids to gather when school lets out.
Salif, have you always wanted to run your own small business?
When I first moved to the States, I delivered for Domino’s Pizza. I was thinking about opening my own franchise. My manager at the time, who was a super cool guy, said, “Salif, if you like following the rules, open a franchise. If you want to be able to do things your way, don’t.”
It was great advice, and I decided to open my own restaurant. I wanted to have freedom.
Oui, Oui Crepes and Pizza is very much a family business. Was that your intention?
I wanted to create a successful business so I could support my family. I have three sons and a daughter, and they all know how I run things. If I’m not at the restaurant, one of my kids is always here. My daughter, Dindy, started working the register and answering phones when she was a kid. Now she’s going to school for real estate and is the accountant for my business.
It makes me feel good to work hard and provide for my family. My dream is for one of them to take over when I retire.
Tell us about your efforts to give back to your Harlem community.
I know what it’s like to come from another country and start something from nothing. As a local business owner, I try hard to help out other people. If you’ve got a bike, you can do deliveries! I’m always willing to hire someone and teach them as we go along.
I know a lot of parents in this community, and I donate food to some of the schools. We get a lot of kids here in the afternoon, so I give them a discount. If they don’t have enough money, I let them eat for free.
Right now, I’m building a gaming room upstairs so the young people in my community have a safe, warm place to play when they’re not in school. I’ve put out flyers to let people know about the new space, and I post to Instagram, too.
You spend a lot of time helping other people. Who do you turn to for support?
I tend to do things my own way and figure things out for myself. But I do take other people’s ideas into consideration. I’ll talk to one of my brothers or my kids. Dindy keeps telling me I need to stop writing down all my business information in a notebook and switch to a better system.
I’ve kept the same notebook for the last five years, and it’s starting to lose some pages. I want to take my business a lot further, and maybe open up my own franchise. So Dindy is probably right.
There are so many inspiring small businesses in the world … check out these other stories and videos from the QuickBooks 2018 BACKING YOU campaign.