Gladys Shahtou, Founder and Owner of Sambuxa NYC

Sudanese cuisine is as diverse as its geography and cultures. In Northern Africa, particularly in Sudan, samosas (also known as sambuxas) are one of the many food staples for this local cuisine. Samosas are traditionally made with a very thin pastry dough that is stuffed with sweet and savory fillings like ground beef or sweet potato. While they can be eaten at any time of the year, samosas are usually reserved for special occasions like holidays and weddings. But no matter the occasion, it is a must to gather around the communal table to prepare these lavish treats like Gladys’s family does.

samosas

Gladys is the owner of Sambuxa, a Sudanese food business in the NYC area. She was born in Sudan but moved at the age of five to Switzerland for her father’s job – a political activist. She went to college in Geneva where she studied International Relations. During this time, Gladys started preparing Sudanese dishes for her roommates which eventually led to a small catering business that helped pay for rent and other expenses. After college, Gladys started her master’s degree in International Management at the University of Bordeaux. She landed in a job in NY after, specifically at the UN, and then after a year and a half moved to D.C. She worked for the Democrats in 2017 right after the elections in the Marketing Department. But given the situation, Gladys did not have a chance in extending her contract.

After four months of sending applications but nothing in return, Gladys felt discouraged. “Even though for months is not much time, it was more of an ego thing for me. Having such an extensive resume (the UN, DMC, and others) and speaking five languages (French, German, English, Arabic and Swiss-German) I was really upset. I was between going back to Switzerland, Sudan, or looking for a different career path in NY”. After brainstorming and multiple conversations with colleagues, Gladys turned her situation into an opportunity. “I always wanted to launch a food business and this was a perfect time as I had no job and no immediate obligations. New York is also the perfect place to launch such business as so many people are willing to try different cuisines. And so I thought to myself, if I work so hard for someone else I might as well work hard for my own passion”.

sudanese sweet

Sambuxa has now been in business for almost two years. The menu offers a variety of Sudanese dishes – beef, chicken, pork, lamb, cheese, and vegetable samosas, stews, wraps, salads, lentils, sweets and more! As she thinks about the future, Gladys is going back to Sudan for the holidays to do some research for an upcoming project: her own business incubator. In Sudan, there are a lot of underprivileged people who have no education but work in any means they find. A business incubator in the capital will help combat this problem and allow people to maximize their skills – either programming, coding, design, food or any other interest. “I want to have a place where the youth can gather, exchange ideas and obtain the necessary resources to start launch their own business. It is tough but doable”. Her vision is to imitate the U.S. system of providing free business courses, events and programs that help those who want to strengthen their weaknesses. In Sudan, for example, it is very popular to drink chai tea. Nowadays it is a very simple activity where people sit on top of crates on the streets, drink their tea, and get back to their routines. “Chai vendors are the Starbucks of Sudan”. According to Gladys, it is so popular that it can be transformed into a larger concept like a cafe. But to make this happen, people need guidance and the right tools; that is why Gladys wants to create her incubator. “Concept stores are very successful in the capital so I want children from the slums to be able to tap into that market and start learning about business”.

The Sudanese people need greater business guidance, and this is what Gladys’s past work experiences helped her realize why she wants to be involved in politics. Greater programs and foreign representation for these people is needed. She figured that by doing this herself she can put the resources where she wants them to go and oversee projects she truly values. “With all these charities and donations worldwide, no one ever knows where the funds head towards. For me, it is better to do it myself and see a direct impact”.

Gladys is fortunate to represent a cuisine that speaks for itself: very flavorful and welcoming. As there are not many African vendors in New York, she is definitely opening a new market. Gladys even wants to produce a Sudanese hot sauce and freeze her samosas to ship them nationwide. Go hard or go home as she said!

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