Persistence reaps rewards for food vendor

A local Samoan food vendor has spoken of his journey and how his sacrifice over the last 19 years put him in the box seat to reap the benefits.

Barry Ahkee, 35, of Seesee village can be seen today at the Siaosi Supermarket, Lotopa selling traditional Samoan food including umu.

But the fact that he now has a four-bedroom house and a new Ford Ranger is a testament to his persistence over the years to continue selling kokoesi, vaisalo, suafa’i, kokoalaisa and supoesi while being disciplined in how he used his income.

His foray into the challenging life of a food vendor began in 2002, when he abandoned classes at the St Joseph's College at the age of 16, in order to assist his mother earn an income for the family.

Mr Ahkee told the Samoa Observer that he couldn’t bear seeing his mother sell food in the sun for him and his siblings’ school fees, so he left school and started selling fa’ausi for $2.

He said he would walk the full stretch of Lotopa every day and earned over $30 a day, though sales were not always good and sometimes he had no customers.

“I wasn’t shy to sell my fa’ausi but I’m very sad when I left some faausi inside my two pair of basket woven coconut leaves because my happiest time is when I returned to my mother and gave her my money,” he said.

The $30 a day income pushed him to sell more food which led to him adding umu and palusami to their menu, often creaming it with coconut cream to sell in front of the supermarket.

Another expansion of their menu led to them making $150 a day and in 2005 Mr Ahkee’s siblings helped him build a small store for their mother, to ensure she stayed at home while her enterprising son continued to frequent Lotopa to sell in front of the supermarket.

“Now I have a lot of customers and friends that come and buy their food and I can see it's not enough,” he said.

“It pushed  me to want to do more food for them to buy so I added two small pots of vaisalo and suafai for breakfast.”

And demand continued to increase for the family, consequently in 2010 the family added five big pots of kokoesi, vaisalo, suafa’i, kokoalaisa and supoesi.

“Those five pots we got almost $700 if we finished everything completely. We made two big umus and lots of faalifu both taro and bananas, two separate times.

“The first one at 10am lunch and  4pm to wait for employees after work to buy food and go home. 

“We received up to $1,200 depends on how it goes. Sunday was the best of all days as I got almost $3,000.”

With the rising demand and business expansion, the transportation of the food to their supermarket sales point started to become an issue for Mr Ahkee.

Consequently, he decided to buy a car as he was spending a lot on taxis to move his family’s business.

“I saved more and more money to keep running and support my family. In 2018, I got myself a new X-Trail from Alnima Motor for $21,000. 

“I wasn’t satisfied as I saw my X-Trail is not good enough to carry all my traditional Samoan food, I need a bigger car mainly a pickup truck.

“I went and talked with the management of the Ford Samoa company at Vaitele and we made an agreement to trade in my X-Trail for $21,000 and deposit up to $30,000 for a brand new Ford Ranger.”

Mr Ahkee said Christmas 2019 he picked up his brand new Ford Ranger and is just about to complete his $2,200 monthly repayment to the automobile company before he takes full ownership. 

He acknowledged the owner of the Siaosi Supermarket Lotopa for allowing them to sell their Samoan traditional food for free in front of their business. 

The Seesee villager is the son of Mutimuti Gautu Meni and Seiuli Telesia Ahkee and is married to Silaumua, whom he has an eight-year-old daughter Telesia with. He is the third eldest in a family of four brothers and one sister.

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