The man commandeering the truck is Godshelter Oluwalogbon, who first arrived in New York City in 2001. He simultaneously listens to lunch orders over his cell, ladles rich stews on to rice in to-go dishes, wraps aluminum foil over deep fried puff-puff dough balls, manages employees and takes orders from the truck’s customers, sometimes in Yoruba.
Oluwalogbon began his food business part-time in 2005, catering on the weekends while working at Zabar’s and full-time in 2010, when he also began to sell his food on 2nd Avenue in front of the Nigerian consulate, initially out of a minivan. He eventually bought and refurbished a Caribbean food truck; his prized second truck, decorated with marketplace scenes, is currently awaiting city inspection and should be hitting the streets within a month.
When Oluwalogbon is not working the truck, often with his wife, Bisola, and several employees, he’s cooking in his Brooklyn kitchen, located along an industrial strip of Atlantic Avenue amid restaurant equipment supply stores. It had been a Nigerian restaurant of sorts, “not really open to the public,” as Oluwalogbon puts it, until he bought out the owners.
Inside the kitchen, Oluwalogbon preps 300 pounds of goat meat for the truck and an upcoming wedding. As two enormous vats of stewing goat infused the kitchen with curry, fresh thyme, bay leaf and garlic, Oluwalogbon explained how he went from a Zabar’s employee to a food truck entrepreneur, how winning the Critics Choice Vendy Award in 2017 impacted his business and what it takes to survive as a food truck owner.
First, are you from Ghana or Nigeria?
I came from Ghana in 2001. I have my Ghanaian nationality, but I’ve lived in both countries. My mom, you could say, she’s from Ghana; my dad is from Nigeria. I have family in both countries.
Were you cooking before you immigrated to the U.S.?
I worked as a waiter in Nigeria at the age of 15, 16 years old. I became a kitchen assistant; my desire and love for the hospitality industry has continued.
After you arrived in the U.S. in 2001, where did you work?
I worked at Zabar’s, on 80th Street and Broadway, for 10 years, it was a golden opportunity. Over time, I saw everything they did, including shipping food across the country and thought, I could do this for Nigerian food.
At one point, I was trying to look for another job while working at Zabar’s, just so I could get more money, but my boss, Chef Boris, told me, “No, don’t look for another job, go to school.” I listened to him. I went to culinary school at the Art Institute of New York, and he gave me a little raise, which really helped. At one point, I was working at Zabar’s in the morning, and at night, LSG Sky Chefs at the airport or a nursing home facility in the Bronx as a dietary supervisor.
How did you transition into catering and the food truck?
I nursed the plan for three years before I made the decision to do it. I wanted to make sure it was the right time, and then I launched it. I used savings and eventually the revenue from the business. It’s all self-run.