Featured photo: A wrap from Saint Louis Saveurs by Carolyn de Berry
If you blink you might miss it, but the smell will likely draw you in.
On a busy stretch of West Wendover Avenue, Saint Louis Saveurs brings the flavors of West Africa to Greensboro.
The new restaurant, tucked next to a Circle K gas station, now resides in a part of the building that was previously a Dunkin’ Donuts. A bubblegum pink handle in the shape of a “D” is all that remains from the previous tenant. Now, a neon-green to blood-orange ombré awning with a photo of a well-lit industrial bridge welcomes visitors into the small shop. The words “Saint Louis Saveurs” overlay the photo.
From the parking lot, the smells of djolof rice, stewed meat and simmering vegetables alert those pumping gas that a new vendor is there.
“If I hadn’t smelled that, I wouldn’t have ever come here unless someone referred me,” a tall man wearing jeans and a plaid button-up says with excitement as he pays for his order.
The name of the restaurant comes from the city of Saint Louis, Senegal in West Africa. Husband-and-wife team Mouhamadou (Mo) Cisse and Bator Cisse moved to the United States in 2009, first arriving in New York City before settling in Greensboro. According to the Center for New North Carolinians, 500 people from West Africa live in Guilford County.
In July 2022, the two opened Saint Louis Saveurs after renting the space for almost a year and a half.
The owners experienced delays as the restaurant needed updates like new kitchen appliances. The pandemic also made connecting with contractors and contacting the health department more difficult.
“I was struggling through that time,” Mo recalls with a sigh.
“It was really hard, I almost gave up.” Bator agrees. “It was traveling hours and hours to have to pick up all the appliances,” she says. “It was a challenge for both of us.”
But now, with the business underway, the two are intent on sharing the food they grew up eating in Senegal with Greensboro.
“A lot of people think African food all tastes the same,” Bator says. “We focus more on flavoring with garlic and green onion.”
Senegal’s geography, natural resources and religion all influence the cooking and cuisine. The country butts up against the Atlantic Ocean, making fish a common ingredient in Senegalese cooking. Chicken, lamb and beef make appearances, too. Pork isn’t used due to the country’s large Muslim population.
Djolof rice (often spelled “jollof”), West Africa’s most well-known dish, symbolizes a meshing of cultures and continents. The one-pot meal comes to life in a tomato-based sauce, with vegetables and a meat. As the story goes, rice grown from the river basins of West Africa met tomatoes, onions and peppers introduced by European colonizers in the 16th century.
In 2023 at Saint Louis Saveurs, the meal is served on a bed of fried rice topped with seasoned chicken thighs and drumsticks. The meat greedily absorbs flavors from the garlic and onion sauce and mixed vegetables like corn, green peas, green beans and grilled yellow and red peppers. Cooked with care, the tender chicken falls from the bone with ease. If taken to-go, the container includes hard-boiled egg halves tucked into each corner.
Bator not only prepares the food but also developed the menu. She says she learned cooking from her mother.
“My mom taught me how to cook at the age of 12,” Bator recalls between bites for a lunch she has prepared for herself even though it’s already 8:30 pm. “I was always in the kitchen helping her while she was cooking. I would be cleaning the fish, you know, peeling onions and stuff like that.”
As the creator of the menu, Bator focused on blending Senagalese food with American tastes to feed a wider audience.
“We want to be diverse,” she explains. “We want to have food for everybody.”
A glance at the menu reveals a cross-cultural blend of dishes and flavors. Senegalese dishes like djolof rice and yassa, or braised chicken with white rice in an onion sauce, exist alongside American foods like cheesesteak, gyros and burgers.
The deep-fried fataya recalls a similarity to empanadas. Like the djolof rice, the interior of the crunchy pocket has a well-seasoned filling of chicken, onions and garlic. For those wanting an increased heat level, the spicy tomato sauce will add a punch.
For those who might need extra convincing, the couple’s 8-year-old daughter Fatima beams when asked if she is proud of her parents. “I would like to tell them that the food is really good,” she says. “And there’s a lot of stuff that maybe they’ll like.”
Saint Louis Saveurs is located on 337 West Wendover Avenue in Greensboro. Visit saintlouissaveurs.com or Facebook for more information.
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