by CARMEN SIERING
For the first three decades of his life, coffee wasn’t something Oualelaye “Wally” Ouedraogo thought too much about.
“In Africa, you boil some water, you add some coffee, and you drink it,” says the native of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country of 20 million citizens in Western Africa.
Ouedraogo, 35, grew up in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou with his parents, three brothers, and two sisters. He came to the United States 10 years ago to attend graduate school at the University of Florida.
“That didn’t happen. I couldn’t afford it,” he says. He was living in the Brooklyn borough of New York City at the time and decided to stay. “Brooklyn was very diverse, a lot of Black people. I felt like I fit in, and I liked the culture.” He spent his time learning English, reading books, and working.
Ouedraogo says it was easy to find work in restaurants as an immigrant. His first job was as a dishwasher, but he moved up quickly. When he later found a job at Devoción, a coffee shop in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, he felt he had found his calling.
“I like coffee culture,” he says. “It’s welcoming and gives people something to boost their day. It’s what I did for a couple of years.”
He had started thinking about opening his own shop in Harlem, where he was living.
“Then I fell in love with a woman from Bloomington,” Ouedraogo says.
He and Rene Lloyd were married in February 2016. They moved to Bloomington in July 2017 so Lloyd could attend graduate school at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She’s now employed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. They welcomed their son, Damien Ouedraogo, in September 2020.
In Bloomington, Ouedraogo found his way to coffee again, working with Samuel Sveen at Uel Zing, and connecting with Tracy Gates, who was opening Inkwell Bakery & Café.
“We really clicked,” he says. “We hired people and worked on the menu. I did the coffee, and she did the bakery.”
Now the two are opening a second Inkwell location at the corner of Atwater and Woodlawn avenues in a former Subway location. The first time around, Ouedraogo managed the front of the house but didn’t have an official title.
“I’m co-owner of this shop,” he says with a wide smile. “This is my baby. It’s the one thing I couldn’t do in New York and now I’m doing it in Bloomington.”