He runs what one can rightly describe as a five star restaurant and lounge which he paradoxically calls “Buka”- a pejorative in the Nigerian restaurant lexicon which connotes anything but inviting ambience and classy surrounding that his own Buka exemplifies.
In place of the traditional ‘Buka’ in Nigeria, where customers line outside a usually flies-infested surrounding and where the poor and the harried quench their pangs of hunger, Buka Restaurant-the beautiful and well apportioned uniquely Nigerian restaurant located on 946 Fulton Street, Down town Brooklyn, projects class, style and an ambience that is deeply inviting and intriguing.
If you walked through its doors on any given evening, you will see a collection of all nationalities and racial mix-from Whites, to Asians, to Latinos to African-Americans and to Continental Africans-all celebrating and enjoying the decidedly Nigerian menu on display. You will be amazed to see other ethnicities eating African food-in all its spicy glory-from‘fufu’ to ‘pepper-soup’ to moi-moi- to ‘suya’. It is a testament to the oneness that we all share and the curiosity to explore and experiment with menus that are not what we were raised under. It all makes for a good cultural interactions and a sense of togetherness.
The man who put this beautiful restaurant is the Kwara state born, Lagos raised Nigerian-Lookman Mashood- a man whose story depicts courage when the debilitating elements of life stare us in the face and we either stare back at them and rise above them or sink and be swept away by them. Lookman decided to swim and conquer the elements. “I was born into a fairly comfortable background, but early in life, I decided to branch out and stake out a place for myself. I have always been entrepreneurially driven, so at a tender age in Lagos, I bought a bicycle, and began to sell ice creams on the streets of Lagos. I was making money and even while I was in a carpentry school, I was self-sufficient, and it felt good.”
Determined to improve his life’s circumstance, Lookman told me he immigrated to the United States over a decade ago and again did what he needed to do, to get by “I used to cook the pepper soup at Odua African Market-Brooklyn, New York which in the late 90s into the mid 2000s was the place where Nigerian Diasporas congregated to discuss politics and other issues about our lives in the Diaspora. The pepper soup was the niche at that market, and when I left to upgrade my carpentry skills, a lot of people began to ask me when I would open my restaurant; they told me they missed the peeper soup. I started thinking seriously about it, and here we are-Buka is a fulfillment of that dream.”
Asked to specify what makes Buka different from other African restaurants, Mr. Lookman said “We are an authentic Nigerian restaurant. We don’t confuse our customers with that. We used authentic items straight from Nigeria. We wanted to show the world the beauty of the Nigerian cuisine and so far, to the glory of God, we have been able to achieve that. This place is what I may call “the People’s Embassy”- an embassy that showcases the rich cultural dimensions of Nigeria, especially our food. We are selling Nigeria to the world here, and I am always pleased when our customers tell me they have gotten a different perspective about Nigeria and its peoples after visiting our restaurant. We have played host to a number of mainstream American news media-such as the NBC who had visited our restaurant in their efforts to explore and understand the Nigerian cuisine and culture better. We are also lucky that we are located in Downtown Brooklyn which features an eclectic range of nationalities, most of whom are driven by the desire to explore and see experience other peoples cultures.’
According to Lookman, “Nigeria can create employment from its tourism potentials if the relevant agencies will explore ways of creating the right atmosphere for the growth of the industry. We have a lot of things that would enhance tourism if the if the right mechanics are put in place.”
Mr. Lookman credits his partner-Ms. Nat, for all her creative ideas that has turned Buka into the mecca of Nigerian hospitality.