Interview with Tokunbo Koiki from Tokunbo’s Kitchen
When Tokunbo Koiki became frustrated at the lack of African street food, she decided to start her own. Find out how her business has grown from the pop up food stall Tee’s Food Corner to private chef and supper club Tokunbo’s Kitchen.
What’s your career background?
I have a first class degree in Psychology, and a Masters in Social work. With these degrees, I worked extensively as a committed advocate for children and women’s rights globally with cross-cultural experience of working internationally across three continents.
How did your career change after having children?
I was actually due to start my post-graduate degree when I fell pregnant, so I deferred entry for another year and started the course when my daughter was seven months old.
The degree was a two year full time program which included having to complete two 100 days placements. Those two years were some of the hardest period I have ever encountered as I was still learning how to cope with the responsibilities of being a parent as well as managing the challenges of being a student social worker supporting vulnerable adults who were dealing with very complex issues including domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health and homelessness!
Where did the idea for your business come from?
In 2012, I was selected to be part of the prestigious Atlas Service Corps, a leadership development fellowship program in the U.S. This involved living and working in Washington D.C. supporting vulnerable and homeless adults through provision of daily meals, case management and advocacy work.
Very early on I noticed that despite the dozens of food trucks that would be parked around the city business districts serving breakfast and then lunch, none served African food.
This was hugely frustrating for me and the sheer frustration of similar experiences attending festivals and food markets across London led to the launch of Tee’s Food Corner, a pop up Nigerian street food stall in September 2015 and Tokunbo’s Kitchen in 2016, which is a private chef and supper club service for people from all cultures to experience and enjoy authentic Nigerian food.
How did you move from idea to actual business?
Once I decided I was going ahead with my business venture, I researched the procedures and requirements I needed to fulfil in order to start operating.
The first step involved simply registering my food business with my local authority. I then completed a basic food hygiene and food safety and management system training. I already had previous experience selling at car boot stalls and other outdoor markets and felt quite confident I would be able to run a food pop up.
What’s your USP?
My unique selling point is the focus on authentic home cooked Nigerian cuisine and street food that are hugely popular not just with those of. My overall goal is to have Nigerian cuisine as a favourite choice on the London food landscape.
Who’s your target audience?
My target audience are first generation African immigrants, second and third generation Black British of African and Caribbean descent as well as White British and Europeans who are keen foodies or have a particular interest in Nigerian and West African food.
How do you spread the word about what you do?
Mainly through the use of my social media accounts including a Facebook page as well as Twitter and Instagram accounts for both business ventures. I also engaged the services of Ariatu PR to produce a press release ahead of my inaugural supper club event which resulted in several print and television interviews .
What’s been your most successful PR strategy?
Working with Ronke Lawal of Ariatu PR and the press release developed has been incredibly rewarding in gaining attention and propelling my business ventures to the next platform.
I am keen to sustain build on the momentum generated through a longer term working relationship. I have also found engaging with my target audience on social media has been hugely beneficial.
What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
The transition from having a full time job to working part time and starting the business before then decided to give up my social work career to concentrate solely on not one but two food businesses! I had many of my family and friends express concerns about my decision but I was finding social work demoralising and no longer felt fulfilled in my role.
And your proudest moment so far?
This would be when I was successful in 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.
I have also enjoyed introducing Nigerian cuisine to a new audience who previously had no knowledge of what Nigerian food was. The most memorable moment for me was having a small child convince his mother to buy him a meal from my Tee’s Food Corner stall during a visit to London from Austria. It gave me great pleasure to observe the look of pure delight and joy at tasting and discovering a new cuisine that is far removed from his normal style of eating.
Why is work so important to you?
I grew up seeing the struggles my mother experienced when she became a widow with four children so I was keen to relieve her of some of that pressure.
I was fortunate to get my first job at 15 years old in my local MacDonald’s and still remember how pleased I felt not only to stop asking my mum for pocket money but to being able to assist her with some of the living expenses to subsequently being referred to as her ‘personal Swiss bank account’ whenever she needed to ‘borrow’ money from me!
As a single mother myself, I am keen to provide my daughter with a similar role model experience as well as enabling her some of the opportunities that were not afforded to me growing up.
Who inspires you?
My daughter because she is an extremely gifted, sensitive child with an amazing sense of humour and incredibly dramatic nature. She gives me the push and drive to strive for more to ensure that I am able to continue supporting her development.
I am also inspired by other strong minded and passionate women striving hard to achieve their various goals and dreams whilst living unapologetically true to whom they choose to be and not what society expects of or from them.
How do you balance your business with your family?
I am very blessed and fortunate to have a great support network of family and friends who are able to step in and support me as needed.
During the week I try to do all business related activities whilst she is in school to ensure that I am able to give her my full attention or take her to the various after school activities she attends. I would then continue with my work once she is in bed.
She spends most weekends with her father and this gives me the time and freedom to enjoy being Tokunbo and not having to be a mum all the time!
What are your three top pieces of advice for entrepreneurial mums?
- Know yourself and identify your strengths as this makes it much easier when you need to delegate certain tasks to others around you.
- Learn the regulations and procedures of the business you are intending to go into.
- Speak to others already doing the same or similar business ideas, my biggest motto when it comes to my business is ‘why reinvent the wheel’! I have sought out some of my competitors and engaged them to learn good practices from their experience which has also helped me to identify my strengths and areas where I am able to stand out amongst the troop.