Nia Bangala is an entrepreneur, humanitarian and founder of Congo Coffee and Toronto Beignets.
Born in Belgium to parents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangala grew up eating beignets and considers the dessert to be her favourite. She has been working on perfecting the recipe and is proud to say her beignet cafe shop is the first in Toronto.
The one-stop coffee and beignet shop on Gerrard Street East, just east of Parliament Street, has a large following of social influencers and locals. They seem to agree they can’t get enough of the beignets.
“People tell me when they come to my shop that my Beignets remind them of home. But the beautiful thing is that these people are from everywhere,” Bangala said. “Every culture shares similar food, and I wanted to bring that to Toronto.
“I wanted to remind people that despite cultural differences, we are all one and have many similarities in common,” she said.
The cafe owner wasn’t always in the hospitality world. Bangala used to work as a project manager with the United Nations, and when she attended a conference in Africa, she said she had one of the most delicious cups of coffee.
“The taste was so rich,” she said. “I remember leaving and thinking about that cup of coffee throughout my whole trip.”
When Bangala returned to Belgium, her mother made some fresh beignets and thought how perfect that cup of coffee would go with the French-style donut. That became her path out of the corporate world, where she would showcase her personality and talents.
In her pursuit of the culinary world, Bangala decided to open her cafe in Toronto and opened up shop on Gerrard. She also has a small kiosk outside of Ryerson University.
“Since the pandemic, I miss seeing my customers’ faces. I miss spending time with them. Right now, everything is contactless, and as a cafe owner, I thrive on customer feedback and experience,” said Bangala, who grew up in Toronto and attended Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., before returning to Belgium.
Despite COVID forcing her to shut down her Cabbagetown area shop temporally to develop a plan to survive as an entrepreneur through the pandemic, Bangala wasted no time getting the kiosk outside of Ryerson University and adapted to the online world of takeout.
“My favourite customers have to be the students,” Bangala said. “They come in so excited and leave saying how much they love me. I try my best that when people come to eat my beignets, and I can’t help but have so much gratitude to all those who have supported me throughout this whole thing.”
Congo Coffee and Beignets also specializes in sustainably sourced, direct trade coffee from Congolese farmers. The two primary types of coffee grown in the DR of Congo are Arabica beans, harvested in the eastern Lake Kivu area provinces bordering on Rwanda, and Robusta, grown in various locations throughout the country.
“Humanitarian is part of my personal belief, and it’s important to me that I give back to the community that gives to me,” Bangala said.
As the Ford government finally lifts restrictions and a reopening Ontario plan has been put in place, Bangala is hoping her regular customers will return and come inside her cafe so she can greet them.
“I want to see their faces. I want to laugh and smile with my customers again,” she said.
“I already have something planned, and I can’t wait to show them with gratitude just how much I have appreciated all their support throughout the pandemic,” Bangala said.