When Esther Ikuru opened The Cooking Pot in 2014, she knew it would feature a strictly Nigerian menu. She wanted everyone to experience good African cuisine the same way it is prepared in her homeland of Nigeria.
“I use the core principles of cooking an African meal,” Ikuru said. “I stay true to that value. We use grass-fed beef and we use hen, instead of the regular chicken. Anything you get from us is exactly how we cook it at home.”
Ikuru and her family moved to Charlotte from Nigeria 20 years ago. She explained that jollof rice –a long-grain rice in a savory tomato sauce — is the life of the party in Nigeria. It is cooked in a certain way so that there is a balance between mushy and al dente.
“If you don’t have jollof rice at an event, it‘s a meeting,” said Ikuru. “If you don’t have it, you don’t have anything going on.”
Pepper soup and fufu are two other dishes that Ikuru recommends. The Nigerian pepper soup is spicy and contains fish, goat or chicken. Fufu is the popular dough that goes with the soup. According to Ikuru, some go crazy for fufu.
Entrées at The Cooking Pot range from $8-$15.
We asked Ikuru five questions for C5’s Small Business series:
(1) Why do you think you have been successful?
“I cannot take that credit. I have to give it back to God because if I sit and tell you I know what I am doing, I would be lying. It is by the grace of God. I have been successful because I have God on my side. That’s all I can say.”
(2) If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
“I have to do this. If there was no other option, I would have to do this.”
(3) What advice do you offer to small business owners?
“Make sure you are in the right business for you. Don’t be a manager when you open. Be the worker, be everything. After that, you can be the manager. If you open as the manager, then you will never know how everything works. If you don’t know the nitty-gritty of how your business runs, you are going to fail.
“Be patient. You need a lot of good strong support from family or friends. Even if they do not come to help you, they can encourage you when you are like, ‘Oh my God!’”
(4) How do you make sure that you provide customers with consistently good food?
“I cook my food myself. It goes back to when you open your business, be everything before you can only be one person. I did this all by myself for a long time. Even if I am not there, my standards are there. I got everything down pat so I know what I need even if I am not there.”
(5) What are three qualities of successful small businesses?
“Customer service, good product and ask for feedback.”
The Cooking Pot: 5622 East Independence Blvd., Suite 129.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 12 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
Photos: Vanessa Infanzon
Family history and my own fascination with people and their motivations prompted me to begin this series about Charlotte’s small business owners. Industry, situation and questions will vary. Have a suggestion for a small business owner or entrepreneur to interview? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Small Business Series.”