Oyeniyi Shinayomi Daniel is the chief executive officer of Oju Abuja Amala, a dusk-to-dawn restaurant located in the Federal Capital Territory. It is the first of its kind in the capital city’s culinary business. In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, the Economics graduate said he ventured into this business to fill a gap. He also spoke on how his business preserves culture and why he is embracing it wholeheartedly.
Daily Trust Saturday: In many African cultures, boys and men don’t cook because it is considered a strictly female duty. However, that narrative is changing. What got you interested in cooking?
Oyeniyi Shinayomi Daniel: Boys cook the tastiest meals when we are determined to cook. It is just that we don’t cook every time; that’s what it is. I enjoy cooking during my free time and I am happy to take it as a fulltime job with my very first restaurant, Oju Abuja Amala.
Most firstborns, male or female, are made to do most of the work at home and maybe that’s why you took interest in cooking. Are you the first child of your family?
You may be right, but my love for good taste and cooking good food is not because of my rank in the family. With regard to how far I have come, I can say my love for cooking is innate.
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What was your favourite food as a child?
It has always been amala because it is what we eat most at home. I am a native of Osun State and we are proudly “Ara Ilu Oke.” Although rice was common in households, our traditional food – amala and pounded yam – were special. The delicacies were very special that my family either ate amala or pounded yam every Sunday afternoon.
How did the idea for amala business start, and why the focus on it?
My late grandfather, Pa Murphy Daniel, was an amala aficionado. He loved eating amala with efo riro (vegetables) and ogbufe (goat meat), then washed it down with freshly tapped palm wine.
It was always hard for him to hide his glee whenever my cousins and I visited him in the village. Grandpa didn’t hesitate to share his darling dish with us. Having us form a crescent round his table, we took turns to participate in this hallowed communion.
It is an evergreen experience that inspired the creation of Oju Abuja Amala. And we are focused on portraying this distinctive Yoruba delicacy to the world with the finest hands in our kitchen and our top-notch services.
How did you finance your business?
I thank God for family and friends who have been supportive since I rolled out my plans for this business. Their referrals and patronage finance the business. The money we make keeps the business going.
You have an interesting concept and one which is away from the norm. Why the idea of 6pm to 6am?
I am a socialite with an eye for lifestyle, business connections with top fashion designers, politicians and many others. During my outings to parties and clubs, I observed that a lot of people feel hungry in the middle of the merriment and majority of them are not fans of fast-foods. I could have joined the train to open my business around the usual time of 9am to 9pm, but there is a gap that needs to be filled between the dusk to dawn, which we are working to fill.
Do you get patronage that much at a time when people are supposed to be sleeping and resting?
People work round the clock in the Federal Capital Territory, just as they merry in various relaxation spots in the evening all through the nights. Our customers’ patronage has kept us going because it is very encouraging.
Where do you see the future of your business?
My business will be across the 36 states of Nigeria, by God’s grace. In fact, we have started receiving orders for events in Dubai and the United Kingdom
Did you ever get discouraged, or have you ever been embarrassed?
Why would I ever get discouraged to share my culture? I am proud of my roots, family and the business of making and selling amala. I embrace it wholeheartedly.
Who or what has shaped who you are?
This is life and I have been positively shaped by my experiences and mentors as a young man.
How do you balance being an artistic, innovative chef/CEO with being a businessman who needs to worry about profit margins and payrolls?
I didn’t just wake up one day to be a chief executive officer. I am still working to be the best version of myself. I make myself readily available for my businesses and I consistently review our records on a daily basis. I do this conveniently; it is not a burden for me.
How would you advise boys and other young men who aspire to build a career in the culinary industry like you?
I would want to encourage every young Nigerian not to give up on their dreams. We are unique; everybody has an idea to make the country great. We must not let the dreams or ideas for a better Nigeria die.
What keeps your hope alive?
The joy of my mother keeps me alive. That gives me the hope that I can do anything I set my heart on.
Is it a deal breaker for you if a woman can’t cook?
Yes! I can cook, but everybody wants a woman who can cook as well.
You mentioned earlier that you draw much of your inspiration from culture. Can you elaborate on what culture means to you?
Culture is the way I see life and carry myself.
Your customers seem to range from the high in the society to the ordinary Nigerian. Can you tell us some of the famous names that have patronised you?
His Royal Majesty, Oba Elegushi; Her Excellency, Hafiza Yahaya Bello; fashion king, Seyi Vodi; Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi; Hon Shina Peller; footballer, Gbolahan Salami; Chief Olumide Aderinokun; Abuja’s nightlife king, Wizzywaa; Sir Uyi; DJ xmix; Hon Tajjudeen Adefisoye Adeyemi; Small Alhaji; Hon Spending; a lot of them.
What security measures have you put in place for your walk-in customers?
I’m working with The best Security Guard company in Abuja Kas Security Service and also with the police patrol
Do we hope to see more delicacies soon asides amala?
Yes..adding Ofada rice, pounded yam and the white Amala Lafun ( white amala)
What’s your biggest food indulgence?
Obviously, amala with assorted goat meat, combined with a chilled bottle of beer is my best indulgence.
Any future plan?
Yes, watch out for Oju Abuja Entertainment. It is an affiliate of the Oju Abuja brand, which we are set to roll out in the coming weeks.