My name is Simileoluwa Adebajo, and I’m the 25-year-old head chef and owner of Eko Kitchen. I started Eko Kitchen in 2018 because I wanted representation for Nigeria in San Francisco - culinary representation in particular. When I moved here from Lagos in 2016, I noticed that there were so many cultures and cuisines represented here in the city, and I just wanted Nigeria to have some space on the stage.
I started doing pop-up dinners, and it eventually snowballed into a restaurant concept. My plan with the restaurant was to be able to share Nigerian culture through food, music, and art with the city and whoever wanted to come and visit us. I think what is special about Eko Kitchen is the fact that we tried to create an experience. It’s not just a meal - because anybody can forget a meal - but you never forget when you have a great experience at a restaurant.
I feel very connected to San Francisco as a community, especially after the past 12 months, because of some challenges that I faced as a business owner. In July of last year, we had a fire where all of our inventory and equipment was claimed. And San Francisco really rallied behind us, through a Gofundme campaign that helped us to get back on our feet and get situated in a new place. I am grateful that the community was actually saying to me that they wanted Nigerian food here, and they wanted us to be represented here. That was what that reaffirmation felt like.
At the same time, it’s important to recognize that the past few months haven’t just been challenging for my restaurant individually. It’s been challenging for so many restaurants across America, because they’ve had to rethink how to create an experience for the diner in a box. It’s definitely pushed me and other business owners creatively: How do you allow somebody to have an experience in their homes? We put a QR code for a playlist on the takeout box so that you can listen to Nigerian music and jam out while you are having your dinner, and we’re going to create custom packaging with Nigerian art and Nigerian proverbs, so that you can learn a little bit of the language in addition to eating the food.
It’s also caused us all to pivot and think about the true meaning of what it is to feed the community. I think a lot of people, and restaurant owners, prior to this year were more geared towards sales: How do I get a customer to come in and spend? And the last year really saw a lot of restaurants stepping up to the plate in terms of community-feeding programs and public impact: How do we actually feed the community and not just people who can afford?
In the past 12 months, we also became very tied-in with the community in the sense that we started working with a nonprofit called SF New Deal. I’m in a chat room with a hundred other people who are not only restaurant owners - they put their time and resources towards feeding the community through this nonprofit. So I know that we have similar shared values. We are doing meals for the homeless, the elderly, and people with COVID-19 and on a weekly basis. We’ve made over 20,000 meals for vulnerable populations between the beginning of the pandemic and now. It’s allowed me to really pour back into a community that has given so much to me, and allows me to feel like I have a higher purpose, and that this food that I’m cooking has a higher purpose and a meaningful impact in people’s lives.
You learn really it’s less about the presence of the people - like the physical presence of the people - and more about being in the moment with somebody, that makes you be in community with someone. I really enjoy our virtual community on social media - people encouraging us and seeing this thing from six months ago, saying, “Please bring it back!” Most importantly, the community that really came to the forefront for me in the past 12 months is my team at the restaurant. I’m thinking about these people who are helping me to make this dream of sharing Nigerian food come true. How do I support them in their own dreams as they support me with this dream?
This year has been very challenging for a lot of restaurants, as we’ve all been forced to think about how to reach the customer given the limitations of the current times. So I’m excited to share this list of Black-owned restaurants in San Francisco that I fully support.
Simi's Favorite SF Spots
Voodoo Love is owned by Chef Eva, and she does new Creole and new Cajun cuisine, a modern take on those classics from New Orleans. I got to know Chef Eva because her restaurant was right around the corner from my 11th Street location. At some point I remember walking by one day and seeing somebody with this lovely, very curly, bouncy hair. And I was like, Who is this lady? We should be in food sisterhood.
What’s special about her restaurant is that she puts herself into the food, into the menu, and into the experience that she wants people to have when they come to Voodoo Love. My favorite thing is the cornbread muffins with honey butter on top. They’re so good. Whatever you get is going to be good - but just order a side of the cornbread muffins in addition, and it’ll be better. I was shamelessly addicted to these at some point in time. She can attest to this.
Bissap Baobab is a Senegalese restaurant in the Mission that has persevered through a lot of adversity within the past two years. In 2019, the owner, Marco, was arrested based on some unfounded claims about his immigration status. And he basically had his restaurant shut down for almost the whole year. He also lost the club, which was attached to the restaurant, due to these fallacious claims laid against him. Baobab was such a huge melting pot of West African culture in San Francisco. When I first moved here from Lagos in 2016, I was always at Baobab, because they would play Senegalese music, Nigerian music, Ghanian music - and it just felt like home away from home. And so it was so heartbreaking to see him go through that.
But he was able to come back. Now he only owns 40% of the space he owned before - he had to sell off the rest of it to be able to pay his legal fees due to that battle. But he’s back and he’s doing takeout and delivery and also working on the nonprofit program which I’m working on as well, the SF New Deal. And the food is amazing. Try the chicken yassa - they’ll do it with fried plantains as well, which is delicious. I love anything with fried plantains.
One day I was just hankering for fried chicken and waffles, and I Googled, and Little Skillet came up. When the food came out, I was so happy. The chicken was perfect, the waffles perfect. And so I ended up going back several times, especially after I learned that it was a Black-owned restaurant. If you’re ever looking for good chicken and waffles in SF, go to Little Skillet.
At Anthony’s Cookies in the Mission, the owner is almost always there. Every time a batch comes out perfectly, you can see him cheesing at the tray of cookies, like yay! What I like about this place is the personal touch. They’ll give you a free cup of milk to dunk your cookies in, which is such a small thing, but such a lovely touch - you go in for cookies and you end up having a full childhood lunch experience of cookies and milk by the time you leave. I love the chocolate chip cookie. He also does like this amazing shortbread cookie. And a soft-baked oatmeal raisin cookie.
Z Zoul Cafe does Sudanese food, and it’s owned by a husband-and-wife duo. They’re very passionate about sharing their culture through the food, which is very similar to my story. And I think that’s why it resonated with me. One of the most delicious things I tasted last year was the lamb shank from their restaurant.
Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen
Tadu has two restaurants in San Francisco, and I love their tibs - meat served with injera. Something about the combination of the meat and the bread and the vegetables is just very nice and balanced.
Radio Africa & Kitchen
Radio Africa Kitchen serves neo-African cuisine - kind of a melding of Ethiopian food, with California flavors as well. I like the fact that it’s one of those restaurants that doesn’t put itself into a box - not allowing people to define what you can and cannot do.
Hazel Southern Bar & Kitchen
Hazel Southern Kitchen is around the corner from my former location on 11th Street - right across the street from the Twitter HQ on Market. Before COVID, they had this amazing lounge space, and they also had jazz musicians come in on a nightly basis. There was just something so healing about eating comfort food and listening to jazz music at the same time. It just felt like medicine for your soul. And now they’re open for takeout and delivery only. Please go by and support them. They have this amazing mac and cheese.
Peaches Patties is not a restaurant per se - it’s a delivery-only company, but they deliver all across San Francisco. Their specialties are Jamaican beef patties, and they also do jerk chicken. They’re very popular for the patties - it’s a meal in a pie, and they have perfected the crust-to-filling ratio.