Grounded by faith and family, Martha Lupai founded A&M Marketplace to bring international food and culture to the North Nashville community. The international grocery store, located in the Nashville Farmers Market, stocks a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grab-and-go meals, baked goods, and packaged foods from local and international suppliers. The fresh fare caters to North Nashvillians and commuters who frequent the downtown area for work.
Martha and her husband Alex, the market’s co-founder, are creating unique experiences to unite people through multicultural cuisine and quell the shortage of fresh food options in the North Nashville area. Certain parts of North Nashville have long since been deemed food deserts meaning there is limited access to nutritious foods within a certain radius. A&M Marketplace is currently the only minority, woman-owned fresh market on Jefferson Street and sells staples like legumes, coffee, and spices in bulk, making them more affordable per serving. “People shouldn’t have to choose between eating healthy and paying their bills. I believe everyone should be able to provide healthy meals to their families,” Martha shares.
A&M Marketplace is the latest addition to several successful businesses Martha has founded over the years. Immigrating from South Sudan in 1995, Martha graduated from Tennessee State University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. After seven years in the field, she decided to expand her passion for social work into full-time entrepreneurship, where she felt she could make an even greater impact.
Martha began selling beauty supply products at the Nashville Farmer’s Market before opening S&E Hair Braiding in Price Plaza on Jefferson Street in 2007. She later expanded her hair braiding business to include Neta’s Naturals, a hair and body care line using all-natural, plant-based ingredients.
A&M Marketplace is the largest project Martha has undertaken to date and opening the market hasn’t been without challenges. Early in the process, she ran into infrastructure and licensing delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Martha turned to the NBIC and consulted with Angela Cranes-Jones, who advised her to enroll in the Foundations and Framework programs, where she learned valuable business skills.
Martha also participated in the Smart Growth Digital Lab Initiative as part of NBIC’s Groundwork accelerator program. Through the lab, funded by a $150,000 grant awarded by The Frist Foundation, Martha learned how to create a website and establish social media profiles for her business.
“Working with the NBIC opened my eyes to so many things you don’t always think about as a business owner. I learned how to create an employee handbook and build my own website to target new audiences. I was also able to meet other like-minded individuals and expand my network,” Martha shares.
Inspired by Angela’s high standards of excellence, Martha applied her newfound insights into making final preparations for the launch of A&M Marketplace. On November 5, 2020, Martha enjoyed a successful soft opening, drawing around fifty local business owners, government officials, and friends. She was presented with A Proclamation from the State of Tennessee by Senator Brenda Gilmore to commemorate the event.
Today, A&M Marketplace carries food items from over 40 suppliers and has four employees. Martha plans to hire more people this year to support the growth of A&M Marketplace and possibly expand her Neta’s Naturals line into major retailers like Target or Sally’s.
That said, she doesn’t put too much pressure on herself to commit to a concrete plan. “I definitely want to continue scaling and growing, but right now, I’m enjoying this moment and taking it one day at a time,” she says. “I’ll go wherever God leads me.”
Above all else, Martha strives to serve others and do everything from the heart. Citing Oprah and Martin Luther King, Jr. as her biggest influences, Martha says that compassion is a motivating factor behind everything she does.
A mother to two young daughters, Martha is also passionate about paving the way for the next generation. “At the end of the day, I want to light the way for other young girls who need role models in the community who look like them. I want to set the bar high to show other Black girls they can be successful and achieve their dreams.”