If someone had told 23 year-old Nigerian Simileoluwa Adebajo that a “casual” tweet will garner her over 15,000 retweets and 56,000 likes, which would in turn bring an overwhelming recognition not just for her but for her Catering Company, she would most likely have laughed it off as wishful thinking.
But that is exactly what happened for her. She had tweeted about quitting her great 9-5 to start her Company and boom! the tweet caught on like wildfire and overnight Simileoluwa became an iconic figure with many applauding her courage to follow her passion. We caught up with Simileoluwa recently and she lets us in on how she is navigating the new found buzz and how her Company, Eko Kitchen is set to become the First Nigerian Restaurant and Catering Company in San Francisco.
Let’s talk about your days at Twitch, you were a financial analyst, what was it like?
Twitch was honestly the best employer that I could have had on my journey. In my role at the company, I was able to use data analysis skills to help them understand the financial KPI’s driving revenue to the business. It helped me to understand financial drivers and how to plug cost leakages in a business which are both invaluable skills. In addition to all this, they allowed me to have a flexible 4 day work week so that I could spend Fridays preparing for my business on Saturday and Sunday. That was how I was able to balance my job and the business for the first few months.
At what point did you realize “this” wasn’t cutting it for you?
I realized I was in the wrong line of work after my last pop up event of 2018. I had sold out the event, delivered an amazing 5 course Nigerian meal to a room of people from diverse backgrounds, and the moment the last person left, I was overwhelmed with this sense of satisfaction and contentment that I had never felt before – this was the moment I drew on when I finally made my decision to move on a few months later.
Your interview with San Francisco Chronicles revealed that you have been in the culinary business for a while, you even had a pop up restaurant- Eko Restaurant, how did you combine that with your 9-5?
Basically, I opened Eko Kitchen in July of 2018, bypassing the cost of having a physical location by using a delivery only model. I delivered meals through Uber Eats and Postmates Friday through Sunday, and I used social media advertising and Nigerian chat rooms in the Bay area to get word out about the business. I slowly layered in catering and the monthly pop up events to add more depth to our service offerings.
Let’s go back a bit, what was growing up like?
I grew up in a lot of places to be honest – my family moved to Lagos when I was 7 – but I feel like Lagos was the city of my childhood. Most of my defined memories are there, and I watched the city develop and fill with even more people on a yearly basis. So many of my crazy high school and university moments happened there as well! Lagos always intrigued me with the way you hated and loved it at the same time, but it was a great place to grow up.
How has the intersection of cultures helped you become a better person?
I think that my experiences have allowed me to see opposite ends of the spectrum which makes me very aware of my privilege and has also equipped me on both how to and how not to use it.
Let’s talk about that one tweet that got people talking- did you ever envision that type of reception?
In the words of Divine Oduduru (the current fastest man in the world ??) “I never esperred it!” To be honest, I tweeted that with hopes that a few of my closest friends would reassure me that I was not completely insane for this move, and went to sleep. Woke up a few hours later to my phone having a seizure basically. The love and support still amazes me till date.
So, how did you feel when you saw the buzz it created and what has the publicity done for your business?
I am really grateful that so many people believe in me and believe in the vision that I have for Eko Kitchen. The publicity has been great too – basically free advertising! However, that means alot of people will be expecting a great experience, so I am doing everything in my power to make sure that I deliver on that.
Tell us about Eko Kitchen, what makes it different?
Eko Kitchen is the first Nigerian Restaurant and Catering Company in San Francisco. We will offer dine in service on some days, and delivery only service on other days, as well as corporate catering. We will also offer unique dine in events and experiences including guest chef pop ups, Nigerian cooking classes and private parties.
Do you have staff? Or have you been managing it on your own?
I have been doing it mostly on my own for the past 9 months, but I have occasionally had help from some of my close friends from Grad school and my housemates. At some point, I was working almost 36 hours every weekend at Eko Kitchen in addition to my 32 hour work week.
Can you share some challenges you have faced while running Eko Kitchen?
I think the biggest challenges for me have been a consistent supply chain of some Nigerian specific supplies and creating standard operating procedures so the business can run without me. I am still working to refine both of these aspects.
Let’s talk about support systems, what does that look like for you?
My family is my biggest support system. I have a very tight knit nuclear family and my dad and his brothers are very close, so they encouraged my cousins and I to be close and support each other as well.
Do you have women you look up to? Care to share with us?
I look up to a lot of women – My mother, Oprah, Beyonce…but more generally, I look up to any woman that has made it through this life despite how much this world has marginalized us.
When you are not running Eko Kitchen, what do you do for fun?
I love to travel. My friends and family sometimes jokingly call me Ajala the traveler, but since Eko Kitchen picked up, I haven’t been able to travel as much. I also like reading, swimming and scrapbooking.
What’s the one thing you find intriguing about being a chef?
To be honest I can’t call myself a chef, because I have no formal culinary training – I’m a home cook that went commercial. I hope to go to a proper culinary school soon to refine my cooking skillset, who knows what the future holds? I love the part where you can make people happy with your food – even if it’s for a fleeting moment.
What advice do you have for young girls and women who look up to you?
Don’t look up to me. Look up to yourself – Constantly strive to be the best version of yourself on a daily basis. Let the women around you guide you.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.