Youma: From economist, to server, to manager, to owner

May 31, 2016

When I walked into Youma (Facebook page), a new African restaurant at 4519 Baltimore Ave., I was glad to finally get to spend some time with owner Youma Ba. When I met with her, she was covering for a server who was out sick. It was somewhat of a homecoming for Youma, since this very location was where she got her start as a server in Philly back in 2001, when it was known as La Calebasse. She left there to open Kilimanjaro on Walnut St.


Youma Ba

She was recruited by La Calebasse to work in their New York City location and was invited to West Philadelphia when the owners expanded into the area. “I’ve been a server, I’ve been a cook, I’ve been a manager,” she recalled. A veteran of the industry, she decided she was ready to open up a new restaurant when she saw the vacant storefront.

Youma Ba never intended to work with food. Her mother, Vice Mayor of Dakar, wanted her to be an economist so she got an economics degree from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. Her mother also taught Youma to cook for her large family twice a day. As one of 12 children, Youma gained the skills that helped her open her first restaurant. 

“Not everyone gets the chance to cook for a big family… We grew up in the really tough neighborhood. Drugs, prostitution, alcohol surrounded us. Our mother did what she had to do,” explained Youma.


Youma restaurant (Facebook photo).

The new restaurant offers Senegalese specialties such as Dibi (grilled lamb chops), Yassa (Spicy grilled chicken with habanero and green peppers), Aloco (fried plantains), Thieboudienne (Fried rice with veggies and fish), and Ginger juice.

But it does not stop at offering food. Youma wants the restaurant to be a meeting place for cultural education, to take advantage of what she believes is a “turning point” for African cuisine in the United States.

“Now we see the whole customer base change; we get 70-75 percent of our customers who are not African… America is a country of dreams, we can all succeed when we believe we’re a part of this country.”

She also routinely caters events for delegations visiting City Hall.

Youma, who is of Fulani descent, is also President of Echoes of Africa, an organization that grows to bridge communities of newly arrived Africans with African Americans.

The restaurant hours are Sun-Thu 12 p.m. – 12 a.m.; Fri & Sat 12 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Rana Fayez

1 Comments For This Post

  1. christina Says:

    i believe it’s kilimandjaro

Follow us on Instagram


Follow Us:


Upcoming Events