Wakis African Kitchen opened its doors last Friday, becoming the only restaurant of its kind in Columbus, Georgia.
Olatunji “TJ” Aiyeola moved to Columbus from Nigeria in 2014 to be near his sister Olasumbo Dada and her husband, who were already living in the area.
The restaurant is the second place of business Aiyeola has started in Columbus, joining his similarly named grocery store the Wakis African and Caribbean Mart. Aiyeola’s wife, Lashanda, told the Ledger-Enquirer that opening the restaurant fulfills one of her husband’s dreams.
“He’s been working on it for a very long time,” she said. “And finally he was able to do it.”
Located on University Avenue near Marco’s Pizza, Wakis Kitchen is take-out only with limited seating.
The food is cooked to order, so patrons should expect a long wait as it is freshly prepared.
For customers new to African cuisine, Aiyeola recommends trying the jollof rice, a rice dish blended with vegetables and a combination of spices. The dish comes directly from Aiyeola’s West African heritage, he said.
“I’m from the southwest of Nigeria,” he said. “There’s no family back home that doesn’t eat jollof rice. What else do you want to eat?”
Another staple on Wakis’ menu is the egusi soup, which can be served with beef, chicken, tilapia croaker or goat meat.
Columbus resident Natasha Luke was one of the first customers to come to the restaurant’s grand opening on Friday. She had been hearing about the opening for the last month on Facebook, and regularly called to find out when the restaurant would open.
“Years ago, my sister’s fiance from Africa used to make us all different kinds of dishes,” Luke said. “And we just fell in love with it.”
When she heard Wakis African Kitchen would serve authentic cuisine, Luke knew she had to try it.
“It’s different,” she said. “(People) should widen their taste buds and try it out.”
After moving to the United States, Aiyeola worked as a cab driver but knew he wanted to do something more.
So, he began thinking about investing in a business and knew if he needed to find a niche he could fill to make his business successful. That’s when he realized there was a demand among the African community in Columbus for authentic food.
“It’s not common,” Aiyeola told himself. “I’m not going to have that much competition.”
He told his family he wanted to open a grocery store, and they wholeheartedly supported the idea.
“Especially my sister,” he said. “She has always been my backbone encouraging me.”
After receiving advice from Dada, Aiyeola opened the Wakis African and Caribbean Mart located on Moon Road. It is the only African grocery store in the city, he said, and it gave people who wanted to cook African food a place to shop without traveling to Atlanta.
Since the grocery store has opened, customers asked Aiyeola about opening an African restaurant, he said. The idea to open Wakis African Kitchen was due to popular demand, Aiyeola said.
After putting the news online that the restaurant was coming, he began fielding calls from people — like Luke — who were interested in knowing when it would be open.
Now that the time has come, Aiyeola is excited to see customers come and try their food, he said.
“I’m very excited,” Lashanda said. “I’m happy that we’re able to bring something different to the community.”