With his new website EatAfrika.com, Elo Obimdike is serving up food from the motherland.
This past March, Obimdike, owner of African Food Services, launched EatAfrika.com, an online ordering platform that partners with local restaurants to bring New Yorkers their choice of African, Afro-centric and American cuisine.
The website, which lists its chefs and their specialties, as well as their own personal catering company’s and private restaurants, allows customers from any borough in New York to cruise the site and choose a chef and a meal, which will then be delivered to their home.
Obimdike, a Nigerian born New Jersey resident, explained that once a customer sends a request through the website, chefs are sent an email, and a text message with the details of the order and they in turn send the food on its way once it’s ready. With the bulk of the customer’s fee going to the chefs, Obimdike says it hasn’t been hard to recruit chefs from all over the city to participate and he is excited that access to African food is “now a reality” for the entire New York City community.
“We aim to serve food that originates from all parts of Africa, as well as food fusions that many of the chefs are well versed in. We’ve really tried to incorporate a diversity of people to team up with and we hope our customers will have a lot to discover once they visit the website,” Obimdike says. “Those that come and take a look will find choices like pap envleis or shisanyama , bunny chow, cape breyani and potjiekos and stew from South Africa. We also have kapenta with sadza from Zimbabwe, Jollof rice and egusi soup from Nigeria, periperi chicken from Mozambique, Koshari from Egypt.”
Obimdike, who originally founded African Food Services to celebrate and raise awareness for African culture, has been partnering with nonprofit organizations to host and publicize events throughout New York City. He says the premise for EatAfrika.com came after hiring different restaurants and businesses to cater these events and he realized he wanted everyone to experience a “taste of Africa.”
One thing Obimdike realized once he began this business endeavor was that the African delivery market was lacking. He says the majority of African restaurants, located largely in Brooklyn and the Bronx, didn’t deliver and he says his ability to offer that service has allowed EatAfrika.com’s popularity to soar.
“When I look around the city there are African restaurants but 95 percent of them don’t deliver and that can be a huge inconvenience especially during the winter months. People don’t want to venture out as much and delivery is a huge asset to those that offer it throughout the year,” Obimdike says. “By carving out this niche we have been able to reach a broader audience and so far we are getting a lot of positive feedback from our customers.”
Another reason for the website’s success is the fact that restaurant owners in Manhattan are paying upwards of $42,000 per month for 2,500 square feet of space, according to a variety of real estate listings that can be found on Blackwood Hospitality, a restaurant and management consultant’s website. Obimdike explains that many of the chefs featured on his website have forgone actual locations, using commercial kitchens instead.
“It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to open up a store front or a restaurant and many of the chefs actually cook from home or from a commercial kitchen and they save a lot of money that way,” Obimdike says. “This platform enables these chefs to avoid paying fees associated with costs of operation, and they can still serve their food to people all over the city. Restaurants are closing left and right due to ridiculous rents and this is a great alternative.”
Barbara Naadjie, a chef who is originally from Ghana, currently runs her catering company Barbara Food Creations in the Bronx. She joined EatAfrika.com after being contacted by Obimdike who had admired her food from afar. She says being involved with the site has not only helped get the word out about her own company, but also brings “amazing food to the mainstream.”
“Many chefs have thought about doing what Elo is doing for quite a long time but haven’t had the time to bring the concept together. It’s truly a great idea and I think it’s going to really change the way African food can be offered in this country,” Naadjie says. “Another great aspect of the site is that people can find out about the kind of food I cook. I don’t just make African food. I create a continental fusion with Asian, Indian, Spanish and East African influences. I am able to show the dishes I specialize in and basically people are able to customize their food. It’s an amazing opportunity for me to get my food out there and for people to try something new for lunch or dinner.”
Naadjie, who learned to cook in her home country from her grandmother and other family members, runs her catering business year round and says the site gives her the ability to concentrate on her business, but also generate extra income.
“It’s definitely going to take some time to really get going but I have already gotten some orders and I expect to get many more. The other thing that is great about the site is that we have flexibility because customers understand that they must order a few hours in advance, which gives me time to prepare and it works out really well for me,” Naadjie says. “For my catering company I am working mostly on the weekends and for special events. So even if someone puts in a big order through the site I still can manage the time and arrange a delivery by noon which leaves my entire afternoon free for my own business.”
Nigerian-born chef and graduate of International Culinary Institute Segun Odofa is also featured on EatAfrika.com and specializes in American and African food. He says the exposure from the site brings a huge amount of traffic to his own business Delicious African Orchards, which is located in Brooklyn.
“I have owned my own catering company for years now and I have a great staff that helps me out at the many events that we cater around New York and while I mostly cook from a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn, I also cook from home when orders come in from Elo’s website,” Odofa says. “People are able to see that I can cook Chinese, Italian, African and American food and that brings traffic and business to my catering company and it’s really a win-win for me and for Elo.”
For Obimdike, this food adventure furthers his original message of raising awareness about the diversity of African culture. He says it’s always been his dream to bring the traditions of home to American and he hopes to expand beyond New York in the near future.
“The African continent is like a deep ocean with quiet a lot to discover and I am proud that I have been able to share that with so many by just gathering so many beautiful people together through the love of food,” he says. “Our customers are also helping make the website better by offering opinions and feedback and we want to encourage that because it makes what we do that much better. In the future I want to continue what we are doing in other parts of the country and partner with more businesses and organizations to spread the knowledge of our cultures which are so dear to us.”