Chi Ndika is a 25-year-old successful minority business owner in Austin and one of the recipients of the SmartBiz® Boost a Small Business in Need Grant Program. The program was created to empower black and minority-owned businesses in both Austin and San Francisco where SmartBiz Loans operates.
Luv Fats creates small-batch homemade ice cream. Ndika’s business was founded to celebrate healthy fats by using avocados and coconut milk as a base. She uses unique and healthy ingredients like fresh produce, nuts, and herbs found at local farmer’s markets in Austin. Chi’s flavors are inspired by her Kenyan and Nigerian roots, and she first experimented with dairy-free recipes and flavors due to an allergy. Luv Fats Ice Cream is in high demand at local farmer’s markets in Austin every weekend.
Starting her business
Ndika didn’t follow the traditional entrepreneurial path, initially earning a degree in psychology. However, her family cooks east and west African inspired foods. “Since I was little, I wanted to have a small business,” says Ndika. “I used to bring purses and bags from Kenya to sell to my friends.” Her friends helped her realize that consumers were interested in natural and local ingredients.
“I didn’t come in thinking I was going to create a business with ice cream,” she says. “At my mom’s birthday party I created ice cream that I didn’t expect to taste like dairy. As far as I know, Luv Fats ice cream recipe is unique in that we use the entire avocado.”
Ndika has now been in the natural ice cream business for 3+ years. Production equipment and storage is expensive but she has a partnership with a manufacturer where she makes and stores the ice cream. With friends in the creative industry, she was offered spots to vend and an opportunity to sell her unique product.
Funding Luv Fats
Ndika was initially working for a non-profit and operating her business on the side every other weekend. She funded Luv Fats Ice Cream by herself for the first 6 months and was able to launch with a small loan from a friend. The loan helped her buy equipment and required business permits.
Since then, her business has sustained positive cash flow. She successfully promotes her business on the Luv Fat Ice Cream’s Facebook and Instagram pages. “I do all of the promotion myself though social media,” she says. “Our logo is an image of me, letting people know that I’m a minority owner. It’s important to be personable and engaging online.”
Experiences as a minority business owner
As a minority, she faces unique business challenges. “There isn’t a big African American population in Austin who are not used to engaging with black business owners,” she says. “I reach out and say hello and good morning and start conversations to remind people why I’m here. Unfortunately, some colleagues don’t take me seriously as a young black woman.”
Like many small businesses, Luv Fats has been impacted severely by the coronavirus pandemic and economic problems. One challenge has been determining where she can source ingredients like coconut milk and coconut cream. She’s put on hold hiring someone to assist with producing the ice cream due to health and financial concerns. “One farmers market on Saturday has been shut down, causing lost cashflow.” Ndika has broadcast far and wide that they are taking extra cleanliness steps, following market guidelines and encouraging customers to do the same. “We encourage them to wear a mask and make quick transactions.”
Preparing for the future
Ndika has business building plans for the grant money. “We’re going to purchase a batch freezer so we don’t have to use an alternative production facility. This will allow us to produce product on a larger scale every day.”
Ndika understands how important small businesses are and does her part to lift them up. She says, “My goal with business is to encourage people around me to shop local to build the economy. Being a black business owner has taught me to be resilient, determined, and knowledgeable. I want to share that with others.”