Tuesday 12 April 2016

2inspire Inspirational Woman: Tokunbo Koiki, Founder of Tokunbo's Kitchen

After years of home-grown cooking for family and friends, Tokunbo Koiki decided to turn her passion of cooking into a business venture. She launched Tee’s Food Corner in 2015, a pop up Nigerian food stall and Tokunbo’s Kitchen in 2016 which provides private chef and supper club opportunities to enjoy authentic Nigerian food within an informal and social experience. When Tokunbo is not cooking up a storm in the kitchen, she can be found on a dance floor dancing without a care in the world! Read her inspirational interview below.

Please tell us what is a typical business day for you?
A typical market day would consist of prepping many of the food a few days before hand. I have learnt this works much easier for me than waking up to start prepping at 5am! I always aim to get to the market at least an hour before it is due to open to the public. Soon as I get to the market I start to prepare the first main meals to be served for the breakfast and lunch crowd which is usually jollof rice, fried fish, grilled chicken, akara (beans fritter), fried yam and fried plantain. I usually have one other person to help me on the stall and we divide up the work with each person tasked to operate the same work for the day.

What made you start the business and how did you get started?
I started Tokunbo's Kitchen due to the sheer frustration of not having access to Nigerian restaurants that were able to provide the level of service and the ambience that goes along with a modern dining experience. I also wanted to share my love of Nigerian food to people from different cultures and enable wider recognition of this cuisine in London and beyond within an intimate and social setting.
I started by operating a pop up street food stall, Tee's Food Corner at Africa Utopia last September after waiting for two hours just go buy jerk chicken at a summer festival. This was the final prompt I needed to put into action an idea that been simmering in my mind for a few years. The event was a success especially in enabling people from all different cultures the opportunity to try a new cuisine they would not have previously considered or encountered.

What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment in the business world to date?
The first was having a six year old boy convince his mother to buy him a meal from my Tee’s Food Corner stall during a visit to London from Austria. To see the look of pure delight and joy at tasting and discovering a new cuisine that is far removed from his normal style of eating is a memory I will always treasure. The other greatest accomplishment for me was obtaining a start-up loan to expand my business idea from the pop up stall to supper clubs and private dining experience. This was a great moment for me as it provided validation that my idea was not crazy! It also gave me more confidence in knowing that the potentials I imagined for the business are not only realistic but that they are very possible.

What has been your biggest challenge in business so far?
Dealing with the well meaning but often times unnecessary worries and questioning from family and friends about my decision to leave social work to set up this business from scratch. Whilst I knew it was well meaning, it initially lead to moments of self doubts but I have found trusting my instinct and not talking much about what I am doing until it's done has enabled them to gain a better understanding of my vision and objectives.

What are your future plans for the business?
To continue running Tee's Food Corner at various markets and festival across London and England whilst also having regular Tokunbo's Kitchen supper club events. I would eventually like to have a small space / car where people can come and eat Nigerian regularly without the regular poor customer service often associated with African restaurants.

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I would learn to trust and follow my instincts much earlier. Asides from that I believe that things have progressed even better than any expectations I may have had. Every few weeks, I take the time to reflect on where I am and the progress I have made. I also look at lessons I need to take away from when things have not gone exactly according to plan or when I have been confronted with a situation I had not planned or prepared for.

Why is it so important to inspire young women in particular to follow their dreams?
From an early age, young girls and women are often told not to dream too high or aspire for anything beyond their current realities. I believe that all young people, but most especially girls and women, should dream for the impossible. They need to develop the courage to follow their dreams no matter how crazy or far removed it might be from what they know or hold to be true. I also wish young girls and women would not feel restrained to just aspiring to be one thing but seek instead to find their purpose and use whichever medium of work or career path that comes their way as the vehicle that drives that purpose.

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to start a business in your industry? 
Love the art of cooking or at least at the very minimum enjoy cooking for others. Be flexible and listen to feedback. Just because you love your cooking or a particular dish does not mean others will. Learn the requirements and regulations of the food industry and always ensure that you adhere to them at all times. Most importantly take time to enjoy the process and the value you bring to others through your skills and talents.

What or who inspires you in business and why?
 My mum was the first business woman I saw and whilst I did not always like the business model she utilised, she inspired me to believe that anything was possible and thought me the skills of buying and selling from an early age including the art of negotiating with wholesalers in New York City fashion district by myself at the age of 14!

What is your favourite inspirational quote?
“No matter how fast or slow you go, you can only go as far as where you are going” as said to me by a friend Akin Akintayo

Twitter: @tokunboskitchen
Instagram: @tokunboskitchen

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