Store of her heart: Alberta Tete-Lartey
Career mom Alberta Tete-Lartey of Green Bay is a woman with thoughtful dedication. She describes herself as resilient and hardworking with a strong attention to detail, talents she uses to improve the store of her heart, LexMax African Caribbean Market in Appleton.
“My store provides Africans and Caribbeans in Northeast Wisconsin access to coveted delicacies,” Tete-Lartey said. “We love sharing our foods and culture with others looking to explore something new.”
Store favorites include jerk seasoning, Jamaican patties, which are similar to an empanada, kenkey (fermented maize dumplings) which is usually served with pepper sauce and fried fish and shrimps, Jamaican ginger beer and fufu, a dough made from boiled and ground plantain or cassava that is used as a staple food in parts of western and central Africa. “You eat it with soup,” she said.
With a BA in Economics & Business from Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, and an MBA in Finance and Strategic Management from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Tete-Lartey was well-equipped to leave her role as VP of Associated Bank in 2017 to focus on getting LexMax on a solid trajectory. She’s also figuring out how to position herself in the digital innovation space.
“I am fascinated with digital innovation and the incredible prospects of disruptive technologies,” she said, referring to inventions such as Uber and Alexa. “I look forward to working with a venture capital fund to provide startups with much needed funding to realize their expansion goals.” Her background in investment banking and management consulting will set her apart in the industry.
In addition to the store and networking in the venture capital fund community, Tete-Lartey treasures time with her family. She’s married to Dr. Edward Anafi, who works in internal medicine across a number of hospitals in Northeast Wisconsin, and the couple has two children, Russell Anafi, age 6, and Marielle Anafi, 4. The children attend Leonardo da Vinci School for Gifted Learners and Royal Montessori Academy in Green Bay, respectively. She describes being able to give her children a shower and tuck them in at night as her favorite part of the day.
“As a career mom, I’m well familiar with the demands of work travels,” Tete-Lartey said. “Being present for my kids’ bedtime routine is a luxury I never take for granted. Of course the quiet ‘me time’ after that is also a bonus.”
She sat down with Women magazine to share more of her story.
Women: Tell me a little about yourself – Where are you from originally? What is your background?
Alberta: I am from Ghana, located in West Africa. I moved to the States in 1997 for college. After earning my BA I worked in investment banking at Wall Street. After my MBA I worked as a management consultant with McKinsey in Atlanta, then did development consulting in Ghana for a couple of years before moving to Wisconsin in 2012. For the past 4 years I was VP in corporate strategy at Associated Bank.
W: What inspires you?
Alberta: Making a difference in the life of others. Growing up in Africa, I didn’t have a lot, so I can relate to the struggles of others. Now I’m in a better position where I can help. I try to do what I can to make people’s lives easier. I want to position myself on a larger scale to help women and children.
W: Tell me about your store, LexMax African Caribbean Market. What is it? How did it get started? What role do you play?
Alberta: LexMax is an ethnic grocery store that sells African and Caribbean food items, ethnic hair care and beauty products. LexMax got started through a shared passion of my husband and I to provide Africans and Caribbeans in Northeast Wisconsin with access to their indigenous foods without having to travel to Milwaukee and Chicago to satisfy those cravings. We looked for a space in Appleton so it would be central and also positioned it close to the mall and Highway 41 for convenience. As a startup, we run a pretty lean operation so my role at LexMax is all-encompassing. I manage the day-to-day operations and handle everything from inventory, marketing, HR, accounting and also running the register when we are short-staffed.
W: What would you want readers to know about the work done/services provided at your business?
Alberta: We sell African and Caribbean food products, including some British foods and Mediterranean foods as well, given the influence on our foods. We also sell hair extensions for braids and weaves as well as wigs. We have ethnic hair care products and beauty/skin care products. We offer money transfer services for Western Union with MoneyGram, and Ria to be added in the next month.
W: What surprises or struggles have you experienced being new to the area?
Alberta: A pleasant surprise for me was the community camaraderie surrounding the Packers. I had been in the United States for 15 years and never experienced anything like it. Everyone was in jerseys. Now I can watch a whole game. I’m also pleasantly surprised at how people are interested in new foods. I get a lot of people from Wisconsin who want to learn something new. People are looking for diversity.
One thing I struggle with is that people here are really nice and don’t directly say what they are thinking when it’s negative.
W: What surprised you the most about being a small-business owner?
Alberta: The hardest part is managing people. You have a vision but the people that you hire don’t necessarily share in that commitment. It’s a challenge to get people to share in that dream, especially when it’s an entry-level job.
W: What advice would you give to people looking to open a business?
Alberta: I would say there are highs and lows of starting a business. Be ready for a bumpy ride and keep your eye on the ball. Have your support system. Have a safety net. Give yourself three years to ramp up. Also, choose a business that you can operate if other people don’t show up. You need to be able to get your hands dirty.
W: How do you find balance?
Alberta: That’s still a struggle. I’ve learned a number of things. Ask for what you need rather than waiting for things to be given. Learn what you can outsource. At first, I wanted to do everything. Now I know I need to abandon the notion of everything being perfect.
W: Do you have any significant projects planned for 2018?
Alberta: We are planning to add a restaurant to the store so customers can purchase precooked food. We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries on this front and believe our customers will appreciate the convenience. We are excited that this will afford us the opportunity to also expose the community to these foods. People who have traveled to Jamaica and enjoyed the cuisine are thrilled at the prospect of being able to enjoy these delicacies in their backyard. We are excited at the overall opportunity to help diversify the food offerings in the valley.
W: Do you have a role model?
Alberta: As cliché as it may sound my role model is my mother. I saw firsthand her discipline and sacrifices to balance career and personal life to raise me and my siblings. Her philosophies on life have been my guiding principles and I often ask myself in challenging times, “What would mum do?”
W: What are your “words to live by”? (Or favorite quotes?)
Alberta: “Do unto others as you’d like others to do unto you.”
W: What is the most rewarding part of your job at LexMax?
Alberta: When customers come in and find those hard-to-find food items from home. Their joy from finding those little treasures and the memories it evokes its priceless. I have had numerous people thank us so much for opening the store and sparing them the trouble of having to drive more than two hours or bother relatives to mail them supplies. I also particularly love when parents of biracial kids who struggle to care for their kids’ hair find solace in products and guidance. I love that in our own small way we are contributing to promoting diversity in Northeast Wisconsin. w