Auto mechanic Ricky Monteiro has a scruffy jawline and a shirt stained from the most recent oil change at Monte and Sons Repair Shop in Germantown. Yet his hands are pristine, velvety and unscathed despite the years he’s spent poking around under the hoods of cars.
His secret? The all-natural, organic whipped shea butter from Yadain Company, located a few blocks away. “I had trouble finding shea butter until I found Yadain,” Monteiro said, coaxing his soft palms. “I’ve been using this for four years, maybe five. It’s so simple.”
While many other businesses struggle to make it in Germantown, Yadian’s apparent success has allowed the firm to expand from its anchor store at 139 West Chelten Ave. to two other locations in Philadelphia. The company also has a retail store near Temple University Hospital and another on North 22nd Street. All offer organic skin products.
Whipped shea in glass vats
With its black exterior walls and windows trimmed with red neon lights, Yadain stands out from nearby businesses at the corner of Knox Street and Chelten Avenue. Inside the store, big vats of shea butter line the back walls. The products, which also include soaps and oils, are neatly displayed on shelving above the polished wood floor. The store is filled with fragrant scents from burning oil — orange, lavender, or mango, depending on the day.
“The main ingredients we hold in the store are coconut, shea butter, herbs, and an array of essential oils,” said Adam Jawaad, a South Philadelphia native who joined Yadain as head of production almost 10 years ago. “Everything is 100 percent natural, plant-based as opposed to animal fats and synthetic perfumes.”
The store’s products are in line with Islamic teaching, which prohibits the consumption of alcohol. Since alcohol can be absorbed through the skin, Yadain’s skin products, unlike many of those sold in the mainstream market, contain no alcohol.
The store also avoids petroleum jelly because it is derived from decomposed organic matter found deep in the earth and on the ocean floor
“It’s basically dead animal and plant matter that’s been sitting on the bottom of the ocean for millions of years,” explained Jawaad as he scrunched up his face in disgust. “You say you’re moisturized, but no; you’re greasy and you’re nasty.”
Yadain’s signature product is its whipped shea. The glass vats in which it is stored are replenished often because demand is so high. Monteiro, for instance, uses the shea every day and even re-distributes it to his loyal customers at his auto repair shop.
An extract from West African tree nuts
Shea butter is a fat that is extracted from the nuts found within the fruit of shea trees, which are native to West Africa. The practice of extracting the fat from the tree nuts dates back to ancient Egypt where the butter was used to shield people from the dry desert sun.
“There are a lot of imitators and attempts to duplicate this on the street, but it never ends up with our consistency,” Jawaad boasted.
He said the secret to Yadain’s special shea butter is the whipping process. That’s done, he said, with an industrial-sized machine that applies about 500 pounds of pressure per square inch to raw shea, which the company imports from Ghana.
Jawaad said the manufacturing process is proprietary. For that reason, the company doesn’t let anybody observe the process, which he said is done in a back room at the store’s Chelten Avenue site, closed off from the inquisitive eyes of customers. Yadain’s owner, whom employees call Haneef, was not available for comment.
On a company-sponsored website, Yadain traces its roots to 1997 when the founders set up a small table to market skin products on the streets of Harlem. Back then, the products were made by others. In 2001, however, the company began making its own products, taking on the name Yadain, which means “two hands” in Arabic.
“It takes a lot of work to get it (the shea butter) down to a melting point where it can be easily applied to the skin,” Jawaad said. “So what he (the owner) did is whip it for people to make it easier, better for kids and older people with arthritis and joint problems who can’t sit there and work this stuff until it’s smooth.”
Jawaad said it’s an art to get the shea butter whipped just right. “The goal is to keep that right, creamy, smooth consistency,” he said.
Greeting the brothers and the sisters
Wearing his signature black Phillies cap, Jawaad spends part of his day working in the back room mixing up oils and coconut to be sold, and part of his day working the sales floor, talking to every “brother” and “sister” who passes through the double doors.
Jawaad takes pride in the time he spent studying the health benefits of the company’s products and learning to explain them to customers. Although he didn’t grow up with natural approaches to skin care, he can now tick off how tea-tree oil helps with acne and how coconut-based soaps are good for all skin types.
“It took me a long time to get it down when I was made head of production,” he said.
Jawaad makes a point of knowing customers by name and trying to accommodate their specific requests. The attention, he said, has paid off. “Our customer loyalty is amazing,” he said. “If you treat the customers right and give them fair prices, then the business will balance out.”
A container of shea butter costs $11 at each of Yadain’s three shops. The coconut-based soaps, fragranced with natural oils and herbs, sell for less than $5.
Family is at the core of Yadain, where employees are welcome to bring their children to work. The giggles of young children can be heard from behind the closed doors of the back room. Every once in a while, the door creaks open and a little face peeks out, quickly followed by an energetic waving hand and an excited “hello.”
“I’m very comfortable in this environment,” Jawaad said. “It’s a corporate company, but very family-based. We share a lot of the same values in regards to our children.”
Like most of his co-workers, Jawaad practices Islam, but he calls the firm “multicultural” because it also employs people from different backgrounds. “But because we sympathize with Islam, it’s a lot easier to work here and be able to practice my religion as opposed to corporations where I would have to clock out to pray, or can’t read the Quran in my down time,” he said.
Nginga Islam, a Germantown resident and former Yadain customer who was recently hired as a salesperson, said that although the company is owned and largely operated by Muslims, its products appeal not just to those who practice Islam but to anyone who is health-conscious.
One of the company’s oils, she said, is so pure that you can fry chicken with it. “It’s strange, but it works,” she giggled from behind her black hijab. “Some people get the peppermint body oil and put it in their tea, or use it to get rid of mice.” The rodents, she said, don’t like the smell and skitter away.
Monteiro might not use the shea butter to rid his garage of pesky critters, but he swears by the healing powers of Yadain’s lavender shea.
“Your knees hurt, back here, your shoulders,” Monteiro said as he pointed to his sore spots. “I use the organic shea at night to rub on my joints. When I get up in the morning, no more pain.”