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Siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick started their own foodie pop-up with no relevant experience. Now, their business has celebrity endorsements, a devoted following, and its eyes set on a permanent location
What do track-and-field star Christine Ohuruogu and politician Diane Abbott have in common? A love for Chuku’s, the soon-to-be-permanent pop-up restaurant* that combines Nigerian dishes with the sharing experience of Spanish tapas. It’s an unusual combination, but one that has brought major success for Ifeyinwa and Emeka Federick.
In 2016, the sister and brother duo were a few years out of university and hundreds of miles apart. Ifeyinwa, a Cambridge classics graduate, was perfecting her French in France, while Emeka was working as a strategy analyst, having graduated from Nottingham with an economics degree. On the occasion that they reunited at home, hosting dinners for friends was a must. It was these moments that revived a years-old conversation about starting a Nigerian restaurant of their own. The idea for their pop-up came soon after.
“We started talking a bit more about the idea and what culturally we were trying to bring,” says Emeka. “We wanted people to get to explore a whole raft of different flavours and try all of these different cuisines, [and] at the same time foster a really great relationship.” Having lived in Spain, Emeka pinpointed tapas culture as the perfect conduit. “It marries so well with our own Nigerian experience of hospitality and food being at the centre of social dining experiences.”
Their dishes, including jollof quinoa, honey prawn suyu, and plantain waffles with desiccated coconut, have become a favourite wherever the pop-up took up residence – but Emeka recalls that starting out was tough. “We didn’t have much experience. No, I lie, we didn’t have any experience,” he says. And the distance didn’t help either. “[We] actually planned our first pop-up via WhatsApp and email around our jobs,” he says.
Ifeyinwa flew back from France for the sold-out event, but it wasn’t until they saw the queue around the block that they realised how far word had spread. Soon after, they decided to quit their jobs and committed to the venture full time.
About 5,000 #chopchatchill-ers (the name for their community) have now passed through Chuku’s, and the siblings rave about how essential social media has been to this success. “It was two of us that started this without a background in the industry,” says Ifeyinwa. “We [didn’t] have a PR team, we didn’t have a marketing team.” They chuckle looking back on their first post, which got just 10 likes. “We were, like: ‘How do people get to [a high] level?’” she says.
Obviously, their social game is much improved. They now have 6,000 followers across the Chuku’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, which they use to identify the most engaged. But they don’t just post drool-worthy food pictures. It also highlights musicians, dancers and photographers who capture the beauty of wider Nigerian culture. “What we’re trying to do through Chuku’s is train people’s eyes toward Nigeria and Africa, to see the beauty which is 100% there,” says Emeka.
They take research trips to the country, not only to develop new dishes, but to build relationships with like-minded Nigerians. It’s these trusted contacts who help them stay up to date. “Social media allows us to do that without having to book a flight every couple of months to be there on the ground,” says Ifeyinwa. “It’s our way of being able to keep in touch.”
Despite their success, Ifeyinwa and Emeka are just beginning to realise a goal they had envisioned much earlier: securing a permanent location for Chuku’s. They launched a crowdfunder to raise £30,000 in 30 days and six days in, they have secured 40% of their target.* “Someone’s Instagram story yesterday really went to town telling people why [they] should support Chuku’s,” gushes Ifeyinwa. “What’s happening has surpassed my expectations.”
While nods from Ohuruogu and Abbott probably helped, the siblings also devote much of their time to studying, and are honest about how much they have to learn. “We’ve been reading books, going to talks. We both have our own power hour in the morning so we can set ourselves for the day. And there’s learning in the industry itself, so we’ve done a lot of work experience,” says Emeka. “[Ifeyinwa] and I are students still.”
The story of Chuku’s shows how the power of a unique idea, coupled with a loyal and energetic social media following, can translate into meaningful, real-life success.
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