Awatif Yahya, Founder of Moyoni

Awatif Yahya, originally from Dubai, brings you tantalizing treats with a twist. Moyoni is a Swahili word meaning “from within the heart”. It is with this passion that Awatif offers her selection of cookies, dumplings, donuts and cupcakes through her business ‘Moyoni’. She infuses her delectable desserts with the Arabic, African and Indian flavors she grew up with. This new take on traditional treats, each imbued with cardamom, saffron and coconut will inspire and tempt your taste buds.

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1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. My parents are Arab descendants born and raised in Zanzibar, a small island on the east coast of Africa. I came to the USA on a Fulbright scholarship to complete my MBA at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and simply fell in love with the city. My passion has always been in food and bringing people together through the taste and aroma of various cuisines. I am intrigued by different cultures and feel that people have much more in common than they think. I wanted to use food as a tool to bridge the gap between these cultures and bring more understanding and appreciation of our similarities and differences.

2. What prompted you to start Moyoni? How did you get started with it?

After graduation, I began looking into opportunities to start a food business in San Francisco. I came across The California Homemade Food Act, which was made effective from January 2013. The timing of this act was perfect for me because it gave me the opportunity to experiment with authentic recipes and come up with fusion desserts. I decided to combine my education, work experience and passion to start Moyoni. My experience in starting my business and getting all the permits I needed, including permits from the SF Department of Public Health, has been great. City Hall employees have all the knowledge and facilities to make obtaining a business license a smooth process.

3. Tell us more about your business. What does your day involve? How have customers reacted to your business?

Moyoni initially began by participating in selected farmers and community markets in SF. I love this channel of selling because it allowed me to interact directly with customers and tell my story. I would hand out my business cards and direct customers to my website where they can see a complete list of all my products and order online. I also use business and social events to promote my business. I have done a couple of pop-ups in office lounges for various companies where I sell directly to their employees. These types of events are particularly effective during the festive seasons such as Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The final channel for my business is through contacts and networking. Customers in SF have been very honest with me and gave me constructive feedback, which has helped me succeed. For instance, my original cookies were initially a little too sweet for the local taste, so I modified my recipe by reducing sugar.

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4. What are some of your most unique sweets? Which are the most popular?

I use exotic spices in my recipes such as cardamom (known as the queen of spice), and saffron (the most expensive spice). We use these spices back home and I wanted to introduce them to the local population. That is my niche. Both of these spices have very sweet aromas and taste fantastic too. My most popular item is the cardamom cookie. I also make personalized cookies where I print a name or short message on the cookie. These have been especially popular at weddings and company events.

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5. Which is your favorite and why?

My favorite are the saffron dumplings made of rice flour. They are very light and just divine. They are also very unusual because not many people use the combination of rice flour and saffron.

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6. What three things do you like most about living in the US?

Well, the USA is a big country so it is hard to generalize. I feel since I live in SF, I can only speak to my experiences here in the Bay Area. The US lives to its fame of being the land of dreams. I love how this country encourages entrepreneurs and how it supports small businesses facilitating everything from obtaining business licenses, to giving guidance on business operations to tax assistance for small businesses. I have visited many cities in the USA but only lived in one so far, so I can give you two more things that I just love about San Francisco specifically: the people and the weather. The city sells itself.

7. Name three ways in which the US is different to your home country.

I can say that starting a business here is much easier and a smoother process than starting a business in my home country. Having said that, getting a full-time job in the UAE is much easier than the USA.

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8. Could you share one of your favorite quotes?

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow” – Ralf Waldo Emerson

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Written by Awatif Yahya and Sandhya Jaishankar

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