Once Simileoluwa Adebajo couldn’t shake off the feeling of missing home, she started a restaurant to recreate her childhood experiences. Simileoluwa would go on to open a restaurant of fiery stews and jollof rice in Nigerian style. She undeniably missed her mother’s smoky jollof rice.
In San Francisco, where Adebajo lived, numerous classy restaurants prepared different rice recipes but nothing resembling jollof rice. It was a wonder, and something she couldn’t but do something about; like many homesick expats before her.
Opening a restaurant was not so straightforward. In the summer of last year, she launched Eko Kitchen while working full-time as a financial analyst. Hustling orders of Suya chicken and fried plantain on weekends. At first, it was through Uber Eats and Postmates. Before long, Adebajo was moving into a restaurant space in SoMa neighborhood in San Francisco not far from city mall. At this time, the lease was split between herself and a Mexican restaurant that served lunch on weekdays. By and by, she quit her job and taking the big leap of actualizing the Eko Kitchen dream.
In May, Eko Kitchen became the first Nigerian Restaurant in San Francisco. Her stylish spot is just a few blocks away from Twitter HQ and city mall. The atmosphere here is mixed with afrobeat wafting through speakers and spicy jollof rice. A couple dispose of a pot of the Jollof rice. Close by, another with two young children helped themselves with an order of puff-puff or fried dough dusted with cinnamon-sugar.
Adebajo is establishing this business at a time when West African cuisine is gaining more attention in America.
Just recently, former top chef contestant, Kwame Onwuachi won a James Beard Rising Chef of the Year Award.
She recognizes the challenges; concluding that it may be surprising to discover that San Francisco may only be superficially culturally diverse. To buttress this, a fellow chef, Isla Vida, running a afro-Caribbean restaurant had to run a crowd funding campaign out of desperation to remain in business. When Adebajo announced her plans for Eko Kitchen in May, the post generated north of 55,000 likes on Twitter. Likes do not translate into a steady customer base. The reasons for overcoming these obstacles for her are deeply personal.
Adebajo first encountered the jollof rice was when she returned to Lagos at 7. At that time, the local cuisines were too spicy for her Bronx palate but she eventually fell for them. By the time she returned to US to attend grad school in San Francisco, she missed that one thing about Nigeria. Eko Kitchen attempts to imitate some of the experiences she had with her dad as a child.
Each night, the restaurant takes up a different theme with its own distinct menu. Friday night features bowls of Fiery hot goat meat pepper soup and big platters of grilled meats rubbed with suya spice mix. On Saturdays, lazy dishes accompanied with her mom’s fish stew recipe are served. Sundays are for the special three combo spectacular rice. All she wants is to take Nigerian food to every corner of the globe. Adebajo would love to host a Nigeria-centric food travel show.
If you find yourself in San Francisco and you want an afro cuisine, stop by Eko Kitchen and try the fiery recipes.
African cuisine: Some healthy African foods perfect for the black diaspora to add up to their menu
Top 5 foods to try in the Caribbean
Meet the Cameroonian Chef Christian Abegan