Mrs Sharifah Yunus Olokodana is a Culinary Artist, Instructor and the CEO of Sherry Mama’s Delight (SMD) where they produce 100% Natural Spice Mix free from MSG that is used in place of the usual Bouillon Cubes and more. Over the years, she has trained thousands of women on how to cook naturally and delicious.
In this Interview, the unapologetically Niqobee tells The Muslim Voice, Nigeria’s Usman Oyebamiji about her passion for cooking, business and SMD’s Corporate Social Responsibility.
MV: How did you get into food business?
Shariifah Yunus: I have loved cooking since when I was young. Although I have tried various businesses in the past. However to carve a niche for myself, what will suite me, what will make me closer to Allah. Eventually, I venture into Sherry’s Mama’s Delight (SMD). SMD brand is a pioneer in the natural spices and herbs seasoning enterprise.
With almost a decade in business, we have identified and formulated spice mix flavours that meets the peculiar needs of Nigerian local dishes, African and even Intercontinental needs. My dream is to inspire every woman, especially the young muslimah and even non Muslim. I want to be that lady that young lady looks up to.
MV: Tell us about your business, Sherry’s Mama’s Delight (SMD).
Shariifah Yunus: Sherry’s Mama’s Delight (SMD) is a category king culinary outfit where snacks are made free from artificial flavours, and preservative. After several years of being a businesswoman failing and then finally learning tricks to succeed as a business woman in Nigeria with unique challenges, I started a business workshop for the Muslim woman. That is the SMD Tijaarah Tea for the purpose coaching and mentoring women towards business success. More than 200 women have benefitted from it.
The Tijaarah Tea is for learning the correct rules of the sharia on tijaarah (trading); giving first hand teachings on business fails and triumphs, using my business as a case study; bringing seasoned entrepreneurs who are Muslim women to teach different forms of entrepreneurial skills; provide an avenue in a serene environment where Muslim women can network, bond, learn and relax with great food and even greater memories.
All this is to help women unleash their business potentials through proven strategies that aids profitability while maintaining faith, home and work balance.
And I believe that I am the first to commercially use spice mix and sell. I have cooked professionally as a caterer for over 10 years. I have cooked at once for 700 people, cooked a whole cow all without a single MSG cube, but with the SMD spice mix flavour range. The dishes have always turned out spectacular without anyone missing the MSG that the meals are free from.
MV: While, the SMD Ignite Your Every Day Dishes Virtual Cooking Class. It is all about learning how to cook the most delicious dishes naturally using the SMD Spice mix.
Shariifah Yunus: In 2021, we launch SMD Biz with Sheriifa, the SMD Kitchen Studio and YouTube Channel. The kitchen is hands down one of the most beautiful kitchen studios with great functionality.
A place that will be available to rent for anyone who needs the perfect kitchen to shoot their professional videos. I create and build beautiful and sophisticated kitchens for home use, kitchen studios, and chefs domains.
MV: How do you think your brand of Spices will fare against the ones prepared by other Nigerians?
Shariifah Yunus: Since we started the natural cooking journey, we have evolved and reinvented ourselves. We are like the aged wine, rich in time and better than all. The SMD Spice mix, is the best natural flavour blends you can find around. Our spice mix is 100% natural, free from MSG and other artificial additives and they are so delicious too. We have formulated our spice mix flavours to specifically suit West African dishes, and also targeted to suit Nigerian cooking needs.
MV: How are you combining motherhood and your ‘wifely duties’ with your career?
Shariifah Yunus: When I started my current business from my home about 5 years ago, I do not separate my business from my home. However, we are still using the same building. We live upstairs and the business place is downstairs. My kids are older, while they were still growing, they are always with me. One of the advantages of working from home is that you are the first thing the children see and the last when they are going to bed at night. You will be always there for them to see.
I always contemplate on the verse of the Holy Quran (33:33) which says, “And stay in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance. Be regular in prayer, and pay the poor-due, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah’s wish is but to remove uncleanness far from you, O Folk of the Household, and cleanse you with a thorough cleansing.”
So, being a mother does not really affect my career. I’m a work at home mum blessed with 5 children (4 girls and 1 boy), my first child is 18 years old and my last is 3 years old. As a businesswoman and a busy person I still dedicate time for each of them.
MV: What are your essential ingredients, the things you couldn’t live without?
Shariifah Yunus: That’s SMD Spice Mix. That is it. I can only do without it only when cooking Amala and Eba.
MV: Amidst all the challenges what keeps you going?
Shariifah Yunus: Access to capital is the most difficult challenges the business is facing. Funding to scale existing business is difficult to get into the country. Being a Muslim we must not take Riba (interest). With this we did not source funds from interest based channels.
Though, there are a lot of halal based alternative sources of financing businesses different from conventional interest-based banking space in Nigeria today. However, Muslim investment circles’ terms and conditions most times are not favourable for entrepreneurs in the Nigerian setting due to the fact that most of those sources are total profit oriented, focusing basically on Return On Investment (ROI) with little sympathy for the general Muslim Ummah.
Another one is being an African, Nigerian and a Muslim woman entrepreneur who wears a face veil is tough. The country’s business environment, it is hard for the Muslim who work from home with face veil. I always say; “To be a woman in business in Nigeria is hard, to be a woman who wears the jelbab (hijab) is harder.” We only do what Allah allows us to do as we believed that He is the only one that can reward hard work.
Similarly, getting access to constant electricity and a power supply, Forex is also major concern for business in Nigeria. We can always work around those difficulties over time.
MV: Watching your videos online, you seem a very serene person. What advice would you give to others when it comes to avoiding panic in the kitchen?
Shariifah Yunus: Okay. Knowledge is power. We should seek knowledge in regards to anything and be confident. Women should not be ashamed that they did not know some concept of cooking all they have to do is to learn how to cook and dish. There is no need to panic in the kitchen.
MV: Do you have or have you thought about starting a culinary academy in Nigeria?
Shariifah Yunus: No, maybe in the future. I look towards establishing a first class restaurant.
MV: What’s your perception of the food industry in Nigeria and globally?
Shariifah Yunus: People try to cut corners in this country. We should know that food is life, what we eat determines who we are. If we promote safe food habit the world will be a better place. We should stop practising poor farming techniques that are detrimental to human health such as genetically modified organism (GMO). A genetically modified organism is an animal, plant, or microbe whose DNA has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. The main concerns around GMOs involve allergies, cancer, and environmental issues — all of which may affect the consumer.
Also, excessive use of fertilizers damages the plants and reduces soil fertility. The ingredients in the fertilizers are toxic to the skin and respiratory system. Most people have left farming for white collar jobs resulting in increased food imports due population rise hence declining levels of food sufficiency. We need to go back to farming. Government needs to invest heavily in the Agricultural sector.
MV: You have your way of giving back to the community during Ramadan, I mean Feeding The Fasting With SMD. Please, put a light to this.
Shariifah Yunus: Yes! It is our organizational culture here at SMD to give back to the community. In Alimosho, Lagos where we are located, there are large numbers of less privilege people. So during Ramadhan we implement our CSR, Feeding The Fasting With SMD. We source for funds through public donations to feed the poor in our community.
The Feeding The Fasting With SMD Project started 10 years ago in the heart of Ile-Epo Oke Odo axis of Lagos/Abeokuta Express Way, Lagos State. The first feeding provided 1000 plates to the less privileged, and since then it has been able to provide over 40,000 dishes of highly nutritious meals to those who needs it most.
MV: Kindly give an advice to young Muslim women who aspire to be a work at home mum like you.
Shariifah Yunus: Every deed will be rewarded according to intentions. Women who want to seek this path should pray about it and seek Allah’s guidance. Stay at home to work should have good intentions.
While learning a skill is very important for both genders, no matter what educational qualification you may have. Not just learn a skill, acquire skills that you will love doing because during difficulties, your passion will keep you going. Women should do businesses that are profitable.
Before you get married, know him as a person you both share similar interests. Sisters please be aware this before you agree or your Wali agrees to the khitbah of a man. Young ladies, get a marriage contract of what you want before your union.
Women should learn the business of how do to business, learn how to grow your business through lifelong education and training. As a self-taught chef I still go for formal training. Last year I engaged myself to a training that cost Two Million Naira. I invest heavily in my self development.