NewsPositively Utah


Community comes together to help 'Mama Africa' stay in business

Posted at 4:30 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 18:30:14-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A local woman has made her famous spicy sauce for folks in the Beehive State and across the nation for 12 years.

She’s overcome challenges that have come along the way, but her community is reaching out to help her overcome one more.

In a mixture of locally made foods — cheese and chocolates, and shelves of sauces and syrups — sits a row of hot sauces.

Matt Caputo, the CEO of Caputo's Market and Deli in Salt Lake City, said they typically don't sell hot sauces because they're a store focused on Italian products.

Yet, that changed when Caputo's late father, Tony, met "Mama Africa."

Cathy Tshilombo-Lokemba, affectionately known as "Mama Africa," brought her family recipe of an African hot sauce to Tony more than a decade ago.

"He helped me out day and night, and he was the first one to accept my sauce in his store," said Lokemba.

Caputo, who took over his father's business about seven years ago, said he remembers doing a blind taste test with Lokemba's sauce and a few others.

"It was one of the best in the world," said Caputo.

Lokemba not only made the hot sauce for its flavor and spice but her "Pili-Pili Sauce" was created in memory of her mother.

“My mom would never eat without hot sauce at the table," said Lokemba. "She got it from her mom and then passed it to my mom and then to me, and now I’m passing it down to my daughter and my grandchildren."

Lokemba came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After meeting her husband in Texas, the couple moved to Utah where Lokemba decided to share her family's hot sauce.

For the past 12 years, Lokemba has filled 1,000 bottles of Pili-Pili Sauce by hand every two weeks.

Three years ago, Lokemba suffered a stroke and had to reach out to volunteers for help hand filling the bottles.

“One of the volunteers got a little drop in the eyes, so we were like oh no, we can’t do this anymore! We really need equipment," said Lokemba.

A new machine would help Lokemba and her volunteers fill 1,200 bottles of Pili-Pili Sauce per hour.

That's where Caputo and the community come in, trying to raise money for Lokemba.

Caputo included "Mama Africa's" sauce in his national catalogs and said he received a lot of support.

"We sent samples out, people tried it, and now we’ve got it in stores from coast to coast," said Caputo.

Both Caputo and Lokemba hope to see Pili-Pili Sauce on store shelves around the world.

“Being alive for me means a lot, so there’s more that I have to deliver," said Lokemba. "That’s what I’m fighting for.”

The Caputo family has put together a GoFundMe for Lokemba.