African market serves international community

When UCA alumna Eveline-Tatiana Shaw craved a taste of her African culture, the closest source she could find was in Little Rock.

After repeatedly making the drive from Conway to Little Rock, allowing others to borrow her car to drive there and chatting with several friends who also had cravings for their home culture, Shaw and her husband decided to embark on the three-year journey of opening the Eviane African Market at 710 South Salem Road.

Shaw graduated from UCA in 2016 with a bachelor’s in accounting. With her background in numbers, she felt confident in starting the business to fill the need she saw in her community.

“[My degree] helped me be more confident in my numbers. I don’t have to hire someone to do the more basic things,” she said.

The Eviane African Market opened Sept. 22 and has been steadily gaining ground for the past month. The store introduces a new aspect of diversity to Conway by representing a piece of home in Arkansas for many international students and Conway residents.

“The goal here is to have everything for international students, not only African [students],” Shaw said.

She has high hopes for this store to become a beacon of home for all international students and residents living in Conway.

“When people walk in, out of 100 percent, I want them to find at least 80 percent of what they want. We want people to feel at home. We may not have everything from home, but the basic things we want people to be able to find here,” Shaw said. “We also want American students and people to experience our food and our culture.”

Shaw said a long-term goal of expanding the business is opening a restaurant that will serve various cuisines from different cultures. She took notice of the multiple Mexican and Chinese restaurants around town and wanted to enact a change in Conway food culture. Shaw wants to open a restaurant so that Conway residents can taste the flavorful food derived from Africa, India, and Korea, among other countries.

As a former international UCA student, Aya Jostine Koffi, current manager and cashier of the market, affirmed she believes the market brings diversity to Conway.

“When I first got here I was missing my own food and I was feeling homesick all the time. When I heard there was an African store in Little Rock, I wanted to go but I didn’t have a car to get there,” Koffi said. “Opening this store here in Conway is a big relief for the new African students at UCA who don’t have a car or who can’t afford the gas.”

Koffi said the market also gives Americans an insight on how Africans cook their food. An example of this is how most Americans use peanut butter for breakfast or on sandwiches, while Africans use it in a stew or with fish, chicken and rice.

Koffi does most of her shopping for all the types of food she would be able to find in Africa at the market.

The shop sells popular African products, from hair extensions and clothing, to spices, snacks, beans and meat. Its top three most popular items are attiéké, or cassava couscous, maggi seasoning and spicy plantain chips. It also offers goat and lamb meat which are common sources of protein in Africa.

Photos by Caela Rist

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