A Local Company Is Bringing a Somali Tradition into the Mainstream

Samosas, a popular appetizer in Indian cuisine, might be better-known than their Somali counterpart, sambusas.

But both are versions of fried, flaky dough wrapped around vegetables, meat and spices and both are delicious.

Hoyo is a local company that makes frozen sambusas and basbaas, a tasty jalapeno dipping sauce, bringing this traditional cuisine to a broader market in the Twin Cities. Matt Glover and Mariam Mohamed co-founded the company in 2015, when mutual friends introduced them. Glover, who has a master’s degree in global and cultural studies and a restaurant background, was considering starting a consulting business to help local Somali restaurant owners expand their market and sought Mohamed’s advice. When they sat down to talk, though, Mohamed steered Glover in a different direction: sambusas.

“I realized he was into food and told him so many people have talked to me about starting a business since I moved to Minnesota in 2002, but I didn’t have the time. Matt was a young guy and I thought he’d have the energy to do it,” Mohamed says. With two master’s degrees (in agriculture and statistics), Mohamed is a consultant for UCare and other nonprofits and felt she didn’t have time to start a business. She got two of her four sisters involved, though, and they insisted she also participate. She’s more involved in the marketing and usually attends their sampling demos, while Glover dives into the day-to-day work.

Sambusas are popular in Somali households during Ramadan. With a balance of protein, carbs and veggies, they’re the perfect food for people to break their fast at the end of the day. They’re also traditionally served during weddings and other gatherings. “If people give you sambusa, you feel respected and valued as a guest,” Mohamed says, because they take a lot of effort to make.

Glover says he expected initially to cater to the Somali community by producing food for time-pressed families, but their customer base quickly broadened. “We found that people who have never heard of sambusas love them and there was a bigger demand than we realized,” Glover says.

Glover put a lot of time into growing the business, taking the lead on paperwork, training and licensing.

“I said it would only work if she partnered with me,” he says. With the help of Mohamed’s sisters and a few other women preparing the food, they got the business up and running.

Hoyo means “mother” in Somali. Glover’s wife, Rachel, came up with the name at their second meeting, and it stuck. The founders intended to employ and empower local Somali moms, who could use their cooking skills to provide for their families while sharing their culture through a favorite food.

They now employ seven Somali women who make more than 800 sambusas a day working two days a week at a commercial kitchen in Bloomington.

The company is looking for a space available full time, which will allow them to continue growing. “Nobody else is making them to sell frozen,” Glover says. “Some businesses make them fresh and distribute them daily, and restaurants make them. The way we’re doing it is hard because there are very thin margins, it takes longer to build the business up and you need a lot of volume.” The demand is real, though. They sold 40 bags the first time they did a demo at a co-op, running out of product. Then Rick Nelson from the Star Tribune gave them a rave review. “When I got a call from Rick Nelson, it felt really legit,” Glover says.

“We want to go to Costco and Hyvee, but we can’t produce enough,” Mohamed says. Once they get their kitchen, she expects they can grow and hire up to 100 women by the end of the year.

Sambusas and basbaas: What are they?

Hoyo makes two types of sambusa: beef and lentil. They use the same base ingredients, but meat is added to one. Both are a mixture of carrots, onions, garlic and lentils seasoned with coriander, cumin, turmeric, salt and red pepper flakes, wrapped in handmade filo—a thin, flaky pastry. Hoyo uses a traditional recipe of flour, canola oil, water and salt.

The dipping sauce, basbaas, is jalapeno-based but mild. To keep the spice level acceptable for Minn., the cooks remove the jalapeno seeds and ribs. The recipe also contains garlic, onion, cilantro, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. The recipe is simple and fresh but cooked to make it shelf-stable, says Glover.

Co-ops have been enthusiastic about the sambusas, so Hoyo was careful about the ingredients, avoiding artificial ingredients and using-as much grass-fed, sustainably raised beef as they can.

A few places to find Hoyo sambusas:

Eastside Co-op, 2551 Central Ave. NE, Mpls.
Fresh & Natural Foods (Shoreview), 1075 County Highway. 96, St. Paul
Good Grocer, 122 E. Lake St., Mpls.
Longfellow Market, 3815 E Lake St., Mpls.
Sahan Halal Market, 1631 Washington St. NE, Mpls.
Seward Community Co-op (Franklin), 2823 E. Franklin Ave., Mpls.
Wedge Community Co-op, 2105 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
North Market, 4414 Humboldt Ave. N., Mpls.

Check their website for more locations that sell Hoyo Sambusas.