African stores

Left: Comfort Owoputi (left) and Gideon Oputy (right) show clothing items for sale at Solid Rock African Mart at 214 W. Oak St.

Right: Benjamin Egbe answers a phone call at the African Caribbean Middle East Food Store near Walmart, which he owns and operates with his wife, Thecla Egbe.

Goat meat, fufu, gari, two-foot yams, and eru are some of the foods craved by African immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Cameroon, Kenya, and Rwanda.

Many local Africans work as corrections officers in East Texas prisons. Over the last decade, more and more Africans have heard about jobs, through word-of-mouth, with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Home lies more than 5,000 miles away. Local Africans, however, continue to enjoy the tastes and fashions of their native countries, thanks to two local stores: Solid Rock African Mart on Main Street and African Caribbean Middle East Food Store near Walmart.

With 100 or more African families in Anderson County, both stores have operated for about three years. They expect to increase business, as more Africans move to Palestine. Both shops carry items from wholesalers in Dallas, Houston, and New York City, which import them from Africa and other parts of the world.

Some foods are common across the African continent, with variations due to geography. A mainstay is fufu, a flour made from cassava, rice, yams, or plantains, used to make a soft bread eaten with a thick stew of goat meat and vegetables.

Benjamin and Thecla Egbe, originally from Cameroon, opened their small food store after moving to Palestine. Prior to that, Benjamin, 55, lived in Dallas while working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where he bought any African food he desired. Seeing a business opportunity, the couple opened the store after moving their family to Palestine.

“People like to shop here because most of us are used to our own diet,” Benjamin said. “We like to make them feel at home in the United States and in Palestine.”

The Egbe family has four children: two in college and two in Palestine schools. Thecla studies nursing full-time at University of Texas at Tyler-Palestine. The couple also pastor at Full Gospel Community Church.

Immigrants from Ghana, a small country on Africa's west coast, purchase bags of small fried fish they eat whole. Liberia, Nigeria, and Cameroon also lie on Africa's west coast; Rwanda and Kenya are further east.

Gideon Oputy sells the crunchy fish in his store, the Solid Rock African Mart, 214 W. Oak St., in Palestine. Oputy, who is from Nigeria, purchased the Solid Rock market in January, but also works full-time as a licensed vocational nurse for University of Texas Medical Branch in an area prison.

Oputy relies on help from family members, including younger brother Elijah, and his visiting mother, Comfort Owoputi. Comfort, who retired from the Ministry of Education in Nigeria, will return home in a few months.

The store carries a variety of colorful African clothing, ranging from $15 to $50, for men, women, and children. For information about Solid Rock, call 903-948-8781.

For information on African Caribbean Middle East Food Store, call 469-363-3981.

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