Sasha Donati was 8 when her family fled Liberia’s civil war and landed in Kansas City, Missouri. Although she loved the freedom and barbecue of the Midwest, she missed the culture and flavors of West Africa.
But Donati found ways to infuse deep spirituality and communal ways into her new life. For family and friends, she prepared traditional dishes of cassava leaves, ginger, seafood and chilis. Cooking, Donati said, was a way to share her energy and history with others.
In 2005, Donati moved to Indianapolis, where she met her husband, Jason Donati. The pair moved to Buffalo, New York, where Jason taught inner-city youth of all ages about the environment, science, nutrition, and organic urban farming. In 2010, the Donatis relocated to Jason’s hometown of Muncie after the birth of their first child.
Sasha worked as a nursing assistant as the couple raised kids and Jason took on increasingly prominent roles at the Muncie Sanitary District. He served on the Muncie Community Schools Board of Trustees and started a nature summer camp that has served more than 1,200 youth. Sasha advocated through her kitchen — cooking for events and fundraisers, including one that raised $4,000 for A Better Way domestic violence shelter and another that paid for past-due textbook fees for soon-to-be high school graduates.
“As I catered events, I took note of what flavors and dishes people enjoyed,” Sasha said. “People complimented my cooking, but I never thought it would lead to anything.”
In September 2023, Sasha had an “awakening” moment when she felt called to open a restaurant in a vacant space at 3124 N. Granville Ave. Her family and friends rolled up their sleeves to transform the former hibachi spot into Muncie’s only West African restaurant.
“I wanted to teach culture, to bring life to certain people, to the body, mind and soul, and to connect with those who aren’t connected to themselves,” she said. “I wanted to bring something different to the table that guests would remember, not just for the flavors and the amount of food but also for the energy I put into it.”
So, she built a menu of West African dishes, from yam and beef stew to sweet potato greens, plantain meat pies, and Liberian chicken wings. She added oxtail goat curry along with puff puffs, which are twisted donuts dusted in sugar. Customers can order a whole fish with West African dirty rice or a robust peanut butter soup with turkey, chicken and fish with a side of okra.
Among its popular side dishes include “fufu,” which is a pounded dough of starchy root vegetables like cassava, yams and plantains. Donati describes the menu as hearty and rich but healthy, adding that, “You don’t always realize all the vegetables in dishes because of the depth of flavors.”
‘It’s the vision she spoke of’
Donati said the restaurant educates neighbors about West Africa and builds connections, which is apparent to her friend, Linzi Marie, who is a radio host on WMUN (92.5-FM). Marie has featured Sasha on her show, “Connected with Linzi Marie,” which features inspiring residents and businesses every Saturday from 8:30-9 a.m.
“Every time I walk in, it’s the vision that she spoke of,” said Marie, a radio host for WMUN. “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 helped Sasha serve takeout in downtown Muncie before the restaurant opened in October 2022 at the former shared commercial kitchen in the Patterson Building. She also assisted Sasha with presentations to area schools about West African culture. The two helped kids make puff puffs.
“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.
A growing gathering place
Marie said the restaurant is an experience “you can’t get anywhere else in Muncie,” with music, flavors, service and portion sizes that transport you to West Africa. Marie’s favorite dish: sweet potato greens.
Sasha said she has built a wonderful community of regulars, who said they had been praying for such a gathering place, which Sasha named after her youngest child, Legacy.
“God wanted me to answer people's prayers,” she said. “It’s bigger than me.”
She continues to pray for growth, as she hopes to expand to offer wine and beer, host jazz nights and activities for kids. She also hopes to one day open or support an international grocery store.
Legacy Village is open 4-9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for dine-in, catering or takeout by calling 765-444-7013 or ordering online at Uber Eats and DoorDash. Customers can find the menu and more information about specials on Facebook.
Inform Muncie articles are written by students in the School of Journalism and Strategic Communication in a classroom environment with a faculty adviser.