OPINION: THE ILORIN "CULINARY STREET"
By Aliyu Olatunji Ajanaku
It was never officially named Unilorin Road, but that name sticks well to it than any other. It's also called Tanke Road. Officially it's Tunde Idiagbon road by the Town Planning Authority but it's hardly applied by office and home owners on this street. I would like to rename it as CULINARY STREET. "Street awon Olowo Sibi". I doubt it if there is any other street in Ilorin that parades more eating outlets than this road.
Facing this road is Charcoal. Owned by a lawyer, the old Mr Biggs was bought over, knocked down and Charcoal emerged from its ruins. It boasts of the conventional eatery, a bakery that's still in embryonic stage, a booming sharwama joint outside and playground for children. Right beside it however is a joint that is going head to head with Charcoal. It sells all sorts of food, mostly local with continental touch. The big boys, bachelors or married men who enjoy dining out patronise them. They can sell till midnight. Their veggies is something else. If you have digestion issues, just buy their vegetables, your bowel would move easily the next day and you would be relieved. Of course I am talking from experience.
As if they knew you may have visited Charcoal, "FROOTIFY" is there to give you dessert the moment you enter Culinary street, just after the junction to Station road. You can buy your assorted fruits and smoothie from Frootify. But should you decide not to do business with Charcoal and Frootify, just move down about one and half kilometers and you would see palatial YAKOOYO, still on your right. This building took years to complete. They took their time, ensured everything was in place, including borehole and all before they opened. I understand YAKOOYO started this food business in Abuja. It's local food with modern touch. I hear you would have to have a fat wallet but your palate and belly would thank you for it.
The SA to the Governor of Kwara state on Community Development, Comrade Kayode Oyin Zubair, recently represented the Governor to commission REO CAKES. They are located almost diagonally to YAKOOYO on the opposite side. Culinary street welcomed this culinary giant a few months back to add to the line up. They specialize in pastries as well as regular meals. One peculiar thing about YAKOOYO and REO CAKES is that they don't have adequate parking space in front of their outlets.
After the old sawmill garage are the two lions of the jungle. Two competitors who can be said to own culinary street. I don't know who came first but a source told me T and K FOODS came before IYA YUSUF. That IYA YUSUF used to operate in Gaa Akanbi before she moved to culinary street, just before FAAB Petroleum. One thing I however know is that they have become household names on culinary street. The competition is something else. While T and K used to be on the left side of the street with massive advantage of parking space, IYA YUSUF is on the right. Both are selling Mama Put. Iya Yusuf more popular than T and K when it comes to Amala, while T and K is better when it comes to light food, with side dressings to complement it. They both sell the same things but one is known more for a particular speciality than the other. Recently however, IYA YUSUF carved out a Tuwo corner in her outfit. Unilorin students, civil servants, businessmen, toasters, dates etc would rather go to Iya Yusuf or T and K than any other joint on culinary street.
Modernisation came in and there is always the need to be more innovative. Modernized Mama Put operators are business giants in Ilorin these days. No longer would you have to eat in a smoke filled environment. IYA YUSUF would renovate her shop during each ramadan, ditto for T and K whever opportunity presented. While T and K could afford more elaborate renovations in their former place on the left side of culinary street, close to ABULENLA, the challenge they had was that the shop was rented. It was under a one story building with that ubiquitous RANTI CHEMIST in that premises. There was limit to what she could do there. Then she bought a piece of land and moved to the right hand side of the street, partly because she needed more space and then also to face the competition headlong. She came out with a classy outfit with a very enticing environment. They had guards who controlled traffic and the whole scene was pleasing to an incoming customer. This must have jolted IYA YUSUF who I hear bought her premises outright and knocked it down completely. Some architects went to work and came out with a beautiful design for her. Not to be outdone, T and K did likewise and went straight for a storey building which as I write is still under construction. Lobatan.
Who is paying for all of these? The customers of course. I don't think it necessarily changes the taste of their food anyway, but it increases the cost per meal. Almost all prices have gone up, including the price of ponmo. I must add that their fans are not complaining anyway.
In between these two giants is IYA ALFA NLA. It's a small place that's not so loud but you need to taste that woman's food to know that she can compete favorably with the giants.
Leave these competitors, leave FABB Petroleum and see a special moin moin and ewa agonyin spot at Tipper garage, Tanke. It's not a joint per se but their signboard is prominent. They can be said to be squatters anyway because before 7pm their loud signboards are gone but reappears again the next day. Their spot faces Tanke ile iwe junction. Also at Tipper garage, two fried and jollof rice specialists present their own packages in the evenings. For bachelors, bachelorettes, single mothers, married but single etc, these guys are there to help them. Instead of going home and thinking of the agony of what to eat, they can just buy from them. Most times, they sell with fried chicken. The fresh vegetable spot as well and meat stalls are here. Unfortunately, they complicate the traffic logjam at Tipper garage. Man must wack sha.
When you leave Tipper garage, you get to Peace Hotel and pick suya, ice cream, pop corn and all but you could also move further ahead and you would be standing in front of another show stopper on culinary street which is ITEM 7 GO.
This chain of drive-by eatery is a concept designed and run by a former student of Unilorin whose course of study had nothing to do with eatery. He was a member of the SUG Exco. Information at hand says, while in Unilorin, the guy reportedly understudied a restaurant operator on the campus. He then set up his own on thereafter. There was an abandoned PEPSI container from which he started his business in Unilorin. It was an instant hit with the students. This was followed by a tiny kiosk in Tanke Oke Odo. Tanke Oke Odo is an area with huge population of students. ITEM 7's speciality is what he calls Party Rice. He makes it tasty and simplified the packaging. While you would spend between N1000 to N1,200 at Tantalizer and Chicken Republic, he started his own with a price tag of just N400. You would get chicken but it won't be a whole lap or perhaps the broilers used are relatively young, though tasty. It's satisfying to the palate while not injuring the pocket. The trademark of ITEM 7 now is queues. Wherever they are located in Ilorin now, you must have long queues. This is a business model that's hugely successful. One lady passing in front of their Taiwo road outlet one evening saw a very long queue and remarked in Yoruba "Won fi ITEM 7 s'epe fun yin ni"? (Dem take ITEM 7 swear for una?".
They have small delivery buses that deliver their unique "party rice" at their different outlets. The outlets now number up to 7 and counting. They have also added ice creams and other confectioneries. Kudos to this innovation. On culinary street alone, ITEM 7 is at Candidate Hotel and Oke Odo. There's another outlet located off SANRAB petroleum junction at Bubu village. The price per plate is now N800, I am told and the beat goes on.
As if that's not enough, a brand new eatery outlet has just opened at Oke Odo, off culinary street. It's called CLAY POT. The building is huge and would definitely give ITEM 7 some competition.
After Candidate Hotel is another joint at ASMAU PLAZA. Colorfully decorated and specialize in solids.
There are some smaller ones too, like one cute stall that sells only beans and bread. Just imagine that. They are located in front of one events hall just before Bekind Petroleum. Of course, there are still old Mama Put joints with smoky rooms on culinary street. I expect that competition would drive them to modernity too.
One thing I noticed is that while the old warhorses like IYA YUSUF and T and K are doing their own things, younger generation of entrepreneurs are busy at theirs too. Tanke is a huge Community on its own and the catalyst is Unilorin. The multiplication of business outlets, food inclusive, benefited immensely from the policy of consistent academic activity whose foundation was laid by former Vice Chancellor, Professor Oba AbdulRahim. The former VC's policy was to discourage ASUU strikes that creates a situation where a student would never know when he would graduate because their lecturers could down tool at anytime for all kinds of reasons. This policy earned the school the tag, BETTER BY FAR. Unilorin became the University of choice for students and of course their parents. Student population boomed, private hostels multiplied on every corner in Tanke and of course, these students must eat.
The twin effects of covid19 and ASUU strike, which Unilorin has now joined anyway, really affected many of these businesses but they are bouncing back. YAKOOYO was opened after covid but I am sure they were ready to roll out before this pandemic put spanner in their works. Reo cakes came alive last month. Ditto for CLAY POT.
While most of them don't have adequate parking space for their customers, IYA YUSUF, CLAY POT and T and K have an edge as far as this matter of space is concerned. I want to believe that by the time T and K finish their construction, more room would be provided for parking.
The can do spirits of these young entrepreneurs must be commended. They know that the jobs are not there but with their creativity, they are identifying needs and filling the gaps. Kudos to the management of the Better By Far University. In the environment of Culinary street, there are online companies that do home delivery of soup. I just learnt about that.
I can bet that Kwara Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS) would be in love with this street. I won't say more than that (giggles). Also officials of KWEPA should watch these outlets and ensure that disposal of food wastes is done properly. The open drainages should not serve for disposal of food wastes.
These entrepreneurs should try and give back to their community. I noticed that at some point ITEM 7 was fixing potholes with concrete around Candidate Hotel. Commendable but they can do more.
If you are a visitor in Ilorin and you need somewhere to eat good meals, come to the culinary street. You can thank me later.
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