In this interview, Tokunbo Koiki, founder of Tokunbo’s Kitchen speaks to YNaija UK representative, Rachel Ogbu about how her food pop-up established 2 years ago has gone on to feed over 5000 people, successfully manned booths at 6 street food festivals, hosted 9 pop-up and supper clubs events and completed 3 in-house chef residencies.
In 2017, Tokunbo Koiki’s business hosted an on-going residency at a Boutique hotel in North London with 80 – 100 covers per service, serving Nigerian food to a demographic that had never tasted many of the dishes on its menu. Ultimately she would love to feed high profile British-Nigerian celebrities like John Boyega and Anthony Joshua, but for now she’s happy to feed the world.
Question: Please can you introduce yourself?
Koiki: I am Tokunbo Koiki, founder of Tokunbo’s Kitchen, a pop up service for people from all cultures to experience and enjoy authentic Nigerian food.
Question: When did you establish your brand?
Koiki: I started in September 2015, initially launching as Tee’s Food Corner, a street food pop up at the Africa Utopia festival at the Southbank Centre in London. I started using Tokunbo’s Kitchen in April 2016 when the business grew to incorporate supper club and private chef services.
Question: How long have you been in business?
Koiki: We recently just celebrated our two year anniversary on Saturday 16th September
Question: When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?
Koiki: After years of home-grown cooking for family and friends, I wanted to create the opportunity, for people from other cultures, to experience and enjoy the type of delicious home cooked Nigerian food I grew up eating. My overall goal is to have Nigerian cuisine as a favourite choice on the London food landscape.
Question: Can you list some exciting milestones in your life with dates? (eg: awards., honours, personal highs) Top career moments so far
Koiki: September 2017 – Shortlisted in the Entrepreneur of The Year category at the BBI’s Enterprise Minds Awards 2017
August 2017 – invited to be a part of a select number of global chefs participating at the New York African Restaurant Week 2017
September 2012 – selected to be part of the prestigious Atlas Service Corps, a leadership development fellowship program in the U.S.
October 2011 – selected as a ‘Future Leader Associate’ with the Nigerian Leadership Initiative
October 2010 – received an Unsung Women’s Award in London
Question: How do you feel about all the recognition you’ve received?
Koiki: Very proud and a great sense of responsibility to myself, family, friends and well-wishers who have been extremely supportive during my journey.
Question: What do people not know about you and what you do?
Koiki: The logistics is the most difficult and gruelling aspect of the business. Sometimes my day starts as early as 4am and involves going to the night markets to get fresh meat and vegetables! I then come home and start prepping the food for my events and sometimes function on only 3 / 4 hours of sleep.
Question: You’ve been running your businesses for the past 2 years. What have been the highs and lows?
Koiki: Biggest high was operating Tokunbo’s Kitchen at two festivals, the Walthamstow Garden Party and Africa Utopia, both in London simultaneously over the summer. This was especially poignant for me as my attendance at the Garden party in July 2015 was the final push that led me to starting a street food business. Africa Utopia was the first festival I traded at in September 2015 and this was our third time trading there so I felt like I had come full circle. We were also running an in-house residency at the same time at Green Rooms Hotel in North London. Suffice to say it was a very busy and hectic period with very little sleep had!
There has been so many lows but one that still sometimes gets to me is the loss of friendships in the process. Many times, the loneliness of not having daily work interactions can be overwhelming but I have tried to buffer that by building a tribe of other like -minded entrepreneurs at different stages of their own businesses.
Question: What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Koiki: Don’t wait until it is perfect, just get started and do what you can with what you have, where you are.
Question: Have you ever had moments when you wanted to quit?
Koiki: There have been several moments during the last two years in which I have considered going back to the security of having a regular source of income! But I am motivated again when I remember that this is the happiest and most content I have been for a very long time.
Question: Which living person do you most admire and why?
Koiki: My mother, despite losing her husband when her youngest daughter was just six months old, she continued to work full time and ran several businesses to ensure she gave us the best possible opportunities.
Question: What is the worst job you’ve done?
Koiki:Examinations Invigilation as I found it very tedious with long hours of just standing about.
Question: You are known for thinking big and taking risks, both in business and in your personal adventures. What’s the secret to your drive?
Koiki: I believe it is because I have always had a sense of fearlessness in approaching life and work. I had a number of personal experiences that gave me resilience and strength from a young age. I also developed a very pragmatic sense of attitude which has helped me in been able to take risks. I truly believe that I have absolutely nothing to lose and this is what fuels and drives my success.
Question: What’s your advice to young people trying to weather the economic hardship?
Koiki: Learn a skill, preferably in a field you have some interest in, whether this is a subject area you studied or not. Give your time for free if you have to, as the opportunities and experiences you will gain during this period will put you in a much better position to gain paid employment within this setting. Be opened to new possibilities and don’t allow yourself to be boxed into accepting or becoming less than you are meant to be!
Question: Please give us a tip on how to remain successful.
Koiki: Learn to know and trust yourself completely. Believe in the process even things are not going as hoped or expected. As Steve Jobs once said, “the dots will connect in the future”. Every experience you have had or are going through is an opportunity for personal growth and even challenges can be used to anchor you onto the next great big thing.
Question: What’s the next big project you’re pursuing?
Koiki: I would love to take Tokunbo’s Kitchen across England and the U.K. as well as internationally, including Lagos. I would love to create a space that goes beyond been your usual typical restaurant. Somewhere one can discover or get better reacquainted with culinary delights of Nigerian food whilst also getting a cultural immersion and access to African food and drink products.