Ghanaian-Nigerian Toby Oladokun launched Plantain Kitchen in late 2019. Months later, his business has embraced veganism, survived Covid-19, and currently envisions an international expansion.
“You’ve got the best of Western Africa,” Toby Oladokun, founder of Plantain Kitchen (PK) says, laughing. A collaborative effort between himself and his mother’s love for African cuisine, the food business takes full inspiration from their Ghanaian-Nigerian roots.
Oladokun was motivated by the lack of prominence that West African cuisine has had in London so far. “I thought I’d combine my passion for food and for marketing, put them in a saucepan and just see what happens,” he says.
In taking jollof rice and plantain — renowned staple ingredients — and infusing them with West African flavours, PK begins with a familiar taste and takes customers on a journey.
It currently offers four options, all served with plantain:
- Jollof rice and grilled chicken
- Jollof rice and vegetable stew
- Jollof rice and oxtail stew
- Jollof rice and THIS vegan chicken
Where can I order a bowl?
PK has been operating in North Road Cross Market, east Dulwich, Street Food Union in Soho, and Greenwich Market. Just before the lockdown, the company also signed a deal with Deliveroo, and they now operate within two miles of the Surrey Quays area. Customers can now order bowls Monday through Sunday straight to their front door.
Adapting to a growing vegan market
On June 18, PK added a vegan chicken bowl to their menu, which uses a soy-based, but equally meaty, textured chicken substitute, and is supplied by THIS. While Oladokun has replaced cow’s milk with oat alternatives in his everyday life, he says he still has a long way to go before he is fully plant-based.
But he understands the growing demand for vegan food. “I guess it’s just a case of stopping some of the consumption, until you get to a point where you feel completely comfortable without animal products,” he notes.
In February, with his combined passion for fashion and food, the entrepreneur ventured into brands across London’s high streets. When a large sports brand accepted his offer to cater an event, he wanted to ensure all dietary requirements were met, which is when he met a vegan who didn’t like vegetables.
“But I want to do something of inclusivity — PK for everyone — which is why I feel it’s important to be able to adapt in this industry,” he explains.
After the employee listed seitan, tofu and many more substitutes — Oladokun left with a need to reflect and find a solution. A few days later, an Ed Sheeran lookalike handing out free chicken nuggets on Shoreditch High Street, gave him the answer. These, of course, were actually THIS’s plant-based nuggets.
Oladokun recalls the first time he opened a packet to taste test them: “I asked myself: ‘Are you sure this is a vegan product?’ And as I created the stew, took an initial bite, I just knew this was going to be one of the best vegan dishes I’ve ever tasted.”
PK’s brand value lies in authentic flavours, which, the entrepreneur emphasises, means this ‘chicken’ dish had to be just as high quality as the rest of the menu. Luckily, the dish was met with overwhelming positivity. “The feedback we’ve had so far has taken me away,” he says, smiling.
The bowls’ benefits
Compared to most other fast-food businesses, PK provides high nutritional benefits. A mix of protein, vitamins and carbohydrates are supplied in each bowl — and most of their ingredients are locally sourced.
PK mainly operates in London markets, so in buying vegetables from neighbouring stalls, they additionally put a lot of money back into local communities. Because of the climate, plantain is difficult to grow in the UK, but Oladokun says PK strives to get to at least 80% of their ingredients locally sourced.
When Covid-19 struck, Oladokun stopped trading at markets, and, with that went his customer engagement energy.
So he diverted his attention to his deliveries and Instagram. Over the course of three months, PK’s page doubled its following. Through surprise Easter eggs on Easter Sunday and free ice-lolly giveaways throughout heatwave weekends, Oladokun filled the hole that losing real-life engagement had created.
Financially, PK struggled at first. But Oladokun strongly believes in having more than one source of revenue in life, which is why he transferred everything to Deliveroo. “If one goes, at least you have the other to bounce back on,” he explains.
In hindsight, the entrepreneur sees Covid-19 as a positive for both himself and Plantain Kitchen. “Sometimes when we work a lot, we don’t really take the time to acknowledge our accomplishments, we’re always seeking to jump onto the next thing and make it better. And when we keep jumping, and seeking the next better thing, those previous accomplishments get diluted,” he says.
Being able to work on PK’s weaknesses as well as continue to uplift people through food was what got Oladokun through these unprecedented times. “This time will never happen again; when Covid came, it was sort of a pat on my back,” he says.
The 5-year Plantain Kitchen plan
PK currently holds a 4.7 out of 5 rating on Deliveroo. But Oladokun wants more for the company.
In five years, he hopes to have fully established PK in the UK, as well as tested his products in Amsterdam and cities across Portugal. “I want to go for a diverse crowd that has never experienced African cuisines in that format before,” he explains.
While PK has huge plans for growth operationally, Oladokun wants to remain a relatable business owner: “I will grow with it, but I’ll still be the humble person that I am. I’ll be happy to help and drive other people to surpass me, or hit their goals too.”