Fannie Gibson grew up in Liberia during the height of the country’s civil war. When her family had the opportunity to leave West Africa for a better life in the United States through a refugee resettlement program, they didn’t hesitate.
After years of living in the Kansas City area, Fannie decided to open her restaurant, Fannie's African & Tropical Cuisine, together with her husband, Kelechi Eme. Although she was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to pursue her passion, she quickly learned that the restaurant business is a labor of love.
“It was strange because the images you see of America are great,” Fannie says. “Everybody wants to come here and when you’re back home, you think, ‘the life is so easy in America. You don’t have to work so hard to get whatever you want.’ People just think money is on a tree. But it was a life changing experience because it’s not what it is. You have to work for everything that you want.”
On most days, you can find Fannie in the kitchen of her restaurant, bringing traditional Liberian dishes like jollof rice and stews served with fufu to Kansas City.
They use their restaurant as a platform to introduce people to their culture and to build a community in the neighborhood.
“In the mornings in West Africa, we always say to our neighbors, ‘Good morning, hope you slept well. How is your day going so far? Have you eaten?’” Kelechi says. “You basically never miss being together with your neighbors; you always have friends coming to check on you. To come along and say, ‘how was your day?’ can actually change the mindset of that person for the whole entire day. It’s something I really want to bring into Kansas City. People come here to the restaurant, and they leave here happy—that’s the experience we want to give them.”
While they miss their home and friends greatly, Fannie and Kelechi are happy with the life they’ve built here in the United States. They hope to use the opportunities they’ve been given to build a better future for their children.
“I can be anything, Fannie says. “I can do whatever I want to do. I have the opportunity now to change things.”