Mr. Lookman Afolayan Mashood is the proprietor of “BUKA”, a local restaurant in Fulton Brooklyn established in April 2010, that caters for the food requirements of Nigerians living in New York. Mashood’s “BUKA” has created for itself a niche, becoming a reference point for those seeking some authentic Nigerian traditional food such as pounded yam, egusi soup, amala, edikaikong, Isi-ewu, pepper-soup, goat meat, stockfish, snail etc. Mashood’s BUKA says all about the name. A Buka in typical Nigeria parlance depicts a local eatery without the trappings of a star grading.
He left Nigeria in 1994 for Dubai. He was there for 2 years before moving to New York. “When I was in Lagos, I did many things. But my last job was, I used to sell ice cream. I lived in Isale-Eko. where most of my friends are bankers. When everybody is going to work in the morning, I dress up too very nicely like am going to my father’s shop in Bariga, but instead am going to sell ice cream. When I get there, I change my dress and put this big hat on my face, because I don’t want my friends to see me. But the irony was, I was actually making more money than people who were bankers at that time. When I was able to save enough money, I bought my plane ticket and moved here.”
Mashood’s BUKA is designed with a touch of class, combining the sassy American touch of decor, blended with home touch of Nigerian pride, enunciated in a green and white banner hanging over the bar. This can be said to replicate the owner’s taste and style. Mashood, without a doubt, is living the American dream, while projecting Nigeria to the global space through the variety of foods and culture.
The Buka dream, which cost a whooping $250,000 to bring into reality, enjoys patronage that by far transcends Nigerian tastes, thereby becoming a multi-racial eatery. Little wonder that from the New York Times to the Village Voice, BBC and CNN, Americans are raving about BUKA. The restaurant is indeed unique and offers a taste of authentic dishes to Nigerians who crave good home cooking and non-Nigerians who just want to give it a try. And with a population of over eight million New Yorkers, patronage is huge.
“Apart from the traditional Nigerian community, we have about 60 per cent Caucasians and others who have come to appreciate Nigerian dishes. We serve food the traditional way, where people eat with their fingers, chucking,” Mashood said, adding that at times, some Nigerians come in and ask for cutleries.
Apart from the sumptuous meal that keeps the clients coming back, Mashood’s disposition to service gives him an edge over any competition. This is a very vital factor for a business to be successful. He rightly acknowledges that dealing with Nigerians abroad is the most difficult thing that anybody can do. “Restaurant is a service business. We are like our home government’s ambassador as people come in to learn more about Nigeria by asking questions not only about the food but the way we do things as a people. So we have to endure any attitude they put up and be very courteous, no matter what,“ the BUKA proprietor explained.
Mashood, who migrated to America in 1996, got his first job as a dish washer at 700 Washington Avenue. When he left the place in 1998, he was inundated with calls by those who knew him as a dish washer and later as a chef to set up an African restaurant.
Mashood who sees himself as an ambassador of sort , says he has done so much for Nigeria in terms of positive projection of her culture through the foods served in BUKA and the local music.
Are there challenges? “Oh, yes. There are too many regulations in this line of business, such that it is easier to run a hospital than an eatery. Food must be served with the right quality and standards. We host people of different races and we must keep up to speed with expectation,” he enthused.
For him, his business has come this far because he refused to be dettered by people who were aversed to his opening of an African restaurant, believing that it required a lot of money to set up and would attract low patronage.Now, he is vindicated. “What we have now is unique and fantastic! It’s good food. I can tell you, 98 per cent of my food is not processed. I don’t have any regrets. I feel whatever you have, if you do it right, people will love you for it,” Mashood said. He, at some point not only had Nigerian cooks and stewards, but also from British, Russian, German and Japanese decent.
He advised Nigerians who intend to immigrate to America to make sure that they have the necessary papers before embarking on such mission and also make up their minds to work hard, noting that without this in a matter of months the person will be frustrated. “The American dream is alive for those on the part of the law, frustrations he said will come in the way of not getting a good job and not being able to meet up with basic needs,” he warns.