A group of four friends walk through the door and take a seat at the closest table, decorated with a bright yellow and red floral tablecloth made of cloth from Africa.
A lady wearing a bright yellow gele headdress and a billowing dress made of ankar (a patterned material from Africa) approaches their table.
“Hello, I am Veronica.”
Veronica Ogbeide Shoyinka opened Veronica’s Kitchen in October 2009 in Van Nuys, offering the valley a taste of Nigerian cuisine.
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Shoyinka grew up in the restaurant business, “I learned from my mom and God already put it in me to do it.”
After moving to the US in 1981, she attended college in Missouri and was in charge of International student activities, introducing students to the smoky flavors and characteristic spice of the cuisine.
“People would tell me, ‘we need your food, we crave your food, why don’t you start cooking then we’ll buy it from you,’” said Shoyinka.
As one who derives as much pleasure in making a meal as customers do eating it, Shoyinka found herself cooking and packaging meals for taxi drivers in New York City.
“I started cooking from my house, packaging it and taking it in the kitchen truck,” said Shoyinka.
She did that for about four and a half years before moving to California and opening Veronica’s Kitchen in Inglewood in 1995.
“It was difficult at first because I was doing it on a small scale but because demand was very high it was now on a larger scale,” said Shoyinka.
Her restaurant in Inglewood boasts customers from Nigeria’s film industry, Nollywood, the third largest film industry after Bollywood and Hollywood.
“They have filmed some movies here,” said Shoyinka of the Van Nuys location.
The success of the first Veronica’s Kitchen led her to open one in the Valley, and as the sign reads, it’s the self-proclaimed “Fufu Land.”
“When we came to America we couldn’t tell them ‘come and eat moi-moi or ise-ewe‘so we say, ‘come and eat fufu,’” said Shoyinka.
Fufu is a staple dish throughout West Africa much like grits in the South but with a thicker consistency meant for dipping into soups in place of utensils.
“In every part of Africa they have fufu but we call it different names,” said Shoyinka.
According to Shoyinka, there are about 10 types of fufu but the most popular in Nigeria are yam and cassava (yucca) root.
The fufu, ground and boiled, is meant for pieces to be rolled into a ball and dipped in the soup-no utensils necessary here.
Egusi soup, one of the most famous dishes from West Africa consists of the egusi seed (pumpkin) collard greens, pepper, habanero chili, onion, tomatoes, palm oil, salt and typically goat meat.
The grounded seeds give it a smooth texture much like grated cheese and the subtle vegetable flavors and fufu balance with the heat of the habanero.
Egusi soup and jollof rice are the most popular dishes among Americans, according to Shoyinka, who admits she serves a diverse clientele in addition to Nigerians.
The jollof rice has a smoky after taste reminiscent of Spanish rice and is the “best in world” as Shoyinka touts of her recipe.
Though the regional flavors may be an acquired taste, Shoyinka has found no shortage of customers willing to learn about the cuisine.
“We all eat the same food, we just make it differently,” said Shoyinka.
Most of the food is steamed except for the plantains, which are cooked with no added sugar, and chicken which is fried and covered in a thick, tomato-based sauce.
“I make more like an Italian sauce- it has a lot of tomatoes, curry, ginger, thyme, nutmeg, and garlic,” said Shoyinka. “I don’t use as much garlic as the Italians but we eat a lot of because of our heart problems,” she quipped with a laugh.
All the food is based on traditional Nigerian recipes and she trains all her cooks though she admits, “I know no two people can cook alike but I try to make them cook the way I cook,” said Shoyinka.
A Veronica’s Kitchen franchise is a long-held dream for Shoyinka, “I want to be everywhere like In-n-Out,” she said. “It’s what I love to do, it’s my passion.”
The bright yellow and orange hues in the décor add to the overall warmth of the restaurant that matches Shoyinka’s jovial presence evident as she happily interacts with customers.
After introducing herself to the group of friends, Shoyinka recognizes one of the girls, now in her twenties, who used to frequent the restaurant in Inglewood with her family and who was now the only one among the four who had tried the cuisine.
“We already ate next door but I was telling them about Nigerian food and they really wanted to try it,” said Jade Ikazoboh.
The franchise may not be too far in the future as Veronica’s Kitchen stands as the only Nigerian restaurant in the valley and the oldest of its kind in Inglewood, according to Shoyinka.
“I’ve seen little girls grow up, get married and then I cater their wedding,” said Shoyinka with a smile.
Veronica’s Kitchen in Van Nuys
15355 Sherman Way
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Veronica’s Kitchen in Inglewood
528 W. Manchester Boulevard
Inglewood, Ca 90301
Veronica’s Kitchen site