Sasha Donati was going to leave Muncie a year ago. She was not feeling herself. She was in a dark place, and she did not feel like Muncie understood her.
She wanted to leave, but the spirit, who she calls God, wanted her to stay. Right as she was about to go, Donati found the location she needed to open her restaurant, Legacy Village West African Cuisine.
Donati called this moment the beginning of what God was doing in her life.
“It was my awakening moment,” she said.
Donati brought her dreams and goals to life when she opened Legacy Village Sept. 23, 2023. The restaurant serves West African cuisine, including jollof, fufu, puff puffs and much more.
Donati was born in Liberia, which is on the coast of West Africa. She lived there until she was 8, when her family fled a civil war and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. She referred to Kansas City as her second home, with a large portion of her family still living there.
Donati eventually moved to Indianapolis with her sister, where she met her husband. Although he did not live in Muncie at the time, he was from the area, and his mother needed them, so they moved to Muncie in 2010 after their first child was born.
When Donati moved to Muncie, she said she thought it would be temporary, but the city started to grow on her.
“As far as the community is, it's great,” she said. “There's just a lot of good people here.”
The people in Muncie are one of the main reasons she decided to open Legacy Village. As a former nursing assistant, Donati has always had a passion for cooking and taking care of people, especially older people and babies. She enjoyed cooking for her family and inviting people from the community over to her house.
Visitors often complimented her food, telling her she should open a restaurant. Donati didn’t think much of it at first since it was the food she ate every day, but eventually, people talked her into the idea of bringing West African cuisine to Muncie.
The reality of the restaurant took years to form, and Donati put in the work and gave back to the community through food in other ways. She helped raise money for students who could not buy textbooks and sold meals to raise funds for A Better Way, a shelter and service for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault, by selling her meals.
“We raised almost $4,000, which was beautiful,” she said. “I was so happy.”
Donati continued to host fundraisers and cater events in the community, taking note of what flavors and dishes people enjoyed. She said her family and the spirit’s guidance influenced her recipes.
Her faith also spurred her decision to open the restaurant “to teach culture, to bring life to certain people, the body, mind and soul, and to connect with those who aren’t connected to themselves.”
Her goal was to bring something different to the table that guests would remember, not just the flavors and the amount of food but also the energy that Donati puts into it.
Donati described the food at Legacy Village as rich but healthy, so although people are eating vegetables, because of the flavors, it doesn't feel like it. She also prioritizes serving up hearty portion sizes and having a good presentation.
Donati did not open the restaurant to make money. She wanted to educate people and make new connections, and despite only being open for about two months, her friend Linzi Marie has already watched it happen.
“Every time I walk in, it’s the vision that she spoke of,” Marie said. “I remember her saying, ‘I want people to come in from near and far, and I want everyone to feel like family. I want people to see people they know and don’t know, but being there, they are your people.’ It’s been amazing to see that in real life.”
Marie, a radio host for “Connected with Linzi Marie,” has even helped work at Legacy Village a few times. She also assisted Donati when she served takeout downtown. Marie learned a lot from her experience tasting foods and serving patrons.
After working alongside Donati when she brought African culture to local schools by teaching them how to make puff puffs, Marie was not surprised when Donati announced she was going to open a restaurant.
Marie admires Donati’s strength and ability to bring Africa to Muncie, especially since there is not much representation for the culture in Muncie.
“It’s such a beautiful thing because we have representation with people who have moved here and international students, so I believe she is not only bringing culture here but also expanding and being representation for those that are from Africa,” Marie said.
According to the Census, as of July 2023, white people made up 79.4 percent of the population in Muncie. Ball State University is similar with about three-fourths of the population in 2021 being white, although the number has slowly declined each year.
Despite this, there are a handful of ethnic restaurants in Muncie, and Paris McCurdy, the director for community diversity initiatives at Ball State, recognizes the importance of this.
He called food a unifier and said that having a diverse set of restaurants is what Muncie is all about.
“I think a huge piece is the fact that people get to know what is out there,” McCurdy said. “It can be extended outside of eating. When we find out about something, it may make you spark an interest and delve into more of that culture.”
When it comes to culture, Marie said Legacy Village is a whole experience. The music and the service provided make her feel like she’s not in Muncie. She said people won’t be able to get the flavor and portion sizes Donati brings at other restaurants.
One part of this experience is the option to eat with your hands, something common in Donati’s culture.
Marie enjoys eating the sweet potato greens, one of her favorites, with her hands. Donati encourages her to do this, especially because she said she wants to teach Black Americans about what they’re missing and what was stolen from them during slavery.
Donati said she was thrilled to find someone from her home country to work at Legacy Village, something she prayed about for only two days before it happened.
Since spirituality is so important to her, she was excited when people told her they’d been praying for something like Legacy Village.
“God wanted me to answer people’s prayers,” she said. “It’s bigger than me.”
It wasn’t always easy for her either. Along the way, she faced many challenges, lost friends and had people question her, but she never gave up.
"When you’re growing, you shed,” Donati said. “It’s hard, but once you’re done, you’re good.”
She is excited about the future of Legacy Village. She wants to get a wine and beer license, as well as bring in jazz nights and more activities for kids. She still caters and hopes to open an international grocery store one day.
Marie has seen Donati blossom since beginning the process of starting Legacy Village, and she is eager to watch Donati continue to bring her vision to life.
“I just want to encourage Muncie to really come out because it’s amazing,” Marie said. “The environment is wonderful, and it’s right here in Muncie.”
Legacy Village West African Cuisine, 3124 N. Granville Ave., is open from 4-9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.