In 2004, Yollande Tchouapi (Deacon), walked down the aisle of the Church of the Gesu wearing a wedding gown she purchased at Kay Bridal, 7237 W. North Ave. in Wauwatosa.
Interestingly, later today Deacon will finalize a deal to purchase the former Kay Bridal property, turning the building into a commercial kitchen and tasting room and beginning a new chapter for her business Afro Fusion Cuisine.
According to Deacon, construction on the space will begin with the creation of the Afro Fusion Cuisine Flavor Design Studio, a commercial kitchen where she plans to create and test products for her Afro Fusion line of African and Jamaican foods. She hopes for the kitchen to be completed in spring or summer of 2015.
As the second phase of the project, she will add Irie Zulu: The Afro Fusion Cuisine Tasting Hut, a retail store and tasting room where guests can enjoy breakfast and lunch dishes, as well as smoothies and take-away items, while immersing themselves in a bit of both African and Rastafarian history through visual art and music.
Breakfast staples may include authentic African and Jamaican power breakfast items like sweet plantains; Ackee (salt fish) or callaloo served with sorrel; millet with almond milk, coconut milk and agave nectar, candied almonds and fresh fruit; or African style beignets with spiced Chai tea or Touba (African spiced coffee).
Lunch options would be limited to seasonal fare including Joloff rice, Nyama Choma (roasted meat), Bobotie (spiced meat with egg topping), and couscous, with menus changing weekly.
"Overall, my goal and vision are simple," says Deacon. "I want to introduce our community to journey with me across the many countries and cuisines of Africa and its influence in Jamaica via the same key principle: Food that is naked, that has soul … food that is culturally engrained and nutritious, meaningful and appetizing."
Wauwatosa was a logical location for Deacon, who came to Milwaukee in 2001 to earn her MBA at Marquette University. During the first few years she lived here, she stayed with late Marquette Business School Dean Thomas Bausch near 71st and North Avenue, and Bausch and his wife, Bernie, became Deacon’s second family.
"Dr. Bausch was a great home cook, a world traveler, a humanitarian and just an exceptional human being," says Deacon. "He was a strong father figure, an amazing friend, coach and mentor. He taught me you can create a business that makes money without compromising your ethics or your values. Most importantly, he assured me that Afro Fusion Cuisine would be a success if I focused on creating value for people, a great product that that does good. He also taught me to only do what I am passionate about and do it with all my heart."
Deacon previewed her first products at the Wauwatosa Farmer’s Market, a venue she credits with encouraging cultural diversity, good foods and authenticity.
"Becca Kitelinger (former market manager) had exposure to the Peace Corps in Nigeria and love the idea of something different," says Deacon. "And the market board supported her, giving me a great place to showcase my products for the past few years."
After her success at the market, Deacon became a member of the Wauwatosa Chamber of Commerce, where she connected with Kari Hyde Miller, who subsequently made the connection between Deacon and David Glazer, the Wauwatosa real estate agent who assisted her in locating the Kay Bridal space on North Avenue.
"Everyone has been so supportive," says Deacon. "It made it easy for me to decide that Wauwatosa was an ideal location."
She also credits Mayor Kathy Ehley, an avid supporter and customer of Afro Fusion Cuisine, Alderman Joel Tilleson who lent support in Deacon’s pursuit of a $100,000 Community Development Block Grant from the City of Wauwatosa and grant committee members Mike Citro and Lynn Bauer who guided her through the grant application process.
Deacon says that, despite pressures to create more mainstream products, her supporters allowed her to remain true to her goal of creating an authentic product.
"People kept telling me it wouldn’t succeed, that I’d have to westernize it in order for it to succeed," she says. "But, I went out on a limb and decided to see if I could give people an authentic experience, wondering how would they respond?"
Deacon says she found that most people were hungry for something different.
"I wanted to give them African and Jamaican food that’s simple, comfortable – unbiased and untamed – just the way that I remember it," she says. "What I’ve learned is that the common denominator among people is that they really do want authentic things. Consumers are more educated, more savvy and well-traveled and they’re getting more adventurous and demanding more from their food."
Changes in the Milwaukee community, including the closing of African Hut on Old World Third Street, have created a lack of options in the area of African food, Deacon notes. Meanwhile, global flavors are trending.
"The newest frontier in food is actually African and Jamaican food, in part because we really haven’t done a good job putting out good information on what we have to offer," she says. "So my goal is to give people a place where they can come to experience my world, the way I cook at home. I want people to know Africa differently."
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.