Chicago's Ayo Foods Serves Up West African Tradition and Joy

Founders Perteet and Fred Spencer bring cassava leaf stew, egusi soup, and jollof rice to the frozen-food aisle.

Perteet and Fred Spencer
Perteet and Fred Spencer. Photo:

Alissa Kay Creative

When Perteet and Fred Spencer met in college, their families’ food traditions became central to their relationship.Fred’s grandmother regularly presided over family meals; she was “the cook, the queen,” he says. Perteet’s family meals were a mix of soul food and Liberian and other West African dishes; her mother is from the South, while her father immigrated toMinneapolis from Liberia when he was 17 years old.

“At Thanksgiving, we ate cassava leaf, mac and cheese, collard greens, and oyster casserole,” she recalls. “We always had the big Tupperware dish of cassava that was permanently stained with palm oil. There’d be way too much food on the table, but the cassava always goes first. There’s no big meal without it.”

Those dinners inspired the Spencers to found a West African food company that has at its heart the flavors they love and remember. “We ate Liberian and West African food at home, but our food wasn’t in grocery stores,” Fred says. Perteet, who worked as food product brand manager for General Mills for years, examined the market to see where their idea would fit.

“I knew that 99% of food products fail in their first year, even well-supported brands by big companies,” she says. “We had to find the right way to do it.”

They launched the Chicago-based Ayo Foods in 2020, naming their company after the word for “joy” in Yoruba, a West African language. They started with frozen cassava leaf stew, egusi soup, and jollof rice and have since partnered with chefs Eric Adjepong and Zoe Adjonyoh on more frozen meals.

“The world deserves an unabashed version of West African food,” Perteet says. “It’s full of nutrient-dense ingredients. Cassava is used throughout the world for the root or flour but usually not the leaves. The leaves are rich in calcium, and in using them, we are reducing carbon dioxide emissions and developing another revenue source for the community in West Africa.”

Ayo Foods partners with the Liberian nonprofit Girl PowerAfrica to give back to communities throughout West Africa.“We don’t want to rob them of their flavors; we want to giveback, create jobs and opportunities,” Perteet says. “We want to inspire people to take pride in their culture. After all, this food is what connects us.”

Three Favorite Ayo Products

To find a retailer near you that carries Ayo Foods, visit

Shito Sauce

Shito Sauce
Shito Sauce.

 Courtesy of Ayo Foods

Enriched with caramelized onions and shrimp, this sauce offers a good amount of heat and umami. Spoon it into tomato sauce or drizzle it over roasted vegetables.

Groundnut Stew

Groundnut Stew
Groundnut Stew.

 Courtesy of Ayo Foods

This chicken stew, created by chef Zoe Adjonyoh, has complex flavors and just a bit of heat from the peanuts, chiles, tomatoes, ginger, and onions. Serve it over rice.

Chicken Yassa

Chicken Yassa
Chicken Yassa.

 Courtesy of Ayo Foods

This bright Ghanaian dish by chef Eric Adjepong features chicken thighs cooked with lemon, Dijon mustard, turmeric, and caramelized onions and served over rice.

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