LAGOS, a port city in Nigeria is the most populous and one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. It is where the co-founders of ÈKÓ House spent their childhood and now has become all the things that their adult heart now remembers as nostalgia.
Francis Odiase and Yomi Ajao, co-founders of Eko House restaurant, met as engineering students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Two Nigerians, both immigrants at that time—became best friends, and twenty-something years down the road, at the height of their career success, decided to give back by establishing a legacy home away from home fine dining restaurant to represent their culture. “Being in America and successful in our individual careers; we wanted a place where we can showcase our love for our Nigerian culture. A place we can be proud to bring our non-Nigerian friends and feel well represented. Our goal is to represent Nigeria appropriately for an international audience,” says Francis.
July 29th and 30th would mark the beginning of their dream come true, the two-day grand-opening bash that brought in an A-list crowd with a friends-and-family vibe. “It’s about bringing the best of our culture, music, and artwork into an environment like this, doing it in an upscale way and showcasing it to a different audience to appreciate,” says Yomi of their restaurant philosophy. Fitting then, the first-ever female Nigerian ambassador to the United States, H.E Dr. Mrs. Uzoma Emenike honored their invitation to grace the ribbon-cutting ceremony and also gave a remarkable speech. “What a better way to practice diplomacy. You are the real ambassadors. The real ambassadors are people who are in the community that showcase the culture and art of Nigeria. Everything about Nigeria is very visible here,” she remarked.
To me, this is a place where in Rockville you can eat from almost anywhere in the world and to feel the best of that culture, to feel its people… just that there’s a spirit and a vibe that this place brings… Monique Ashton – Rockville Council Member
If you’re familiar with the stars of Èkó (City of Lagos in Nigeria), it won’t surprise you that the A-list attendee—the award-winning Nigerian Superstar, and global afrobeat artist Simi headlined the main event on the day. The 250-seat restaurant, filled to capacity had attendees raving in excitement — Ékó House set the tone of the grade of entertainment to expect from the restaurant. Attendees also felt a strong sense of pride; the fact that an upscale authentic west-African inspired restaurant was opened in the area. Fans of the afrobeat superstar Simi couldn’t contain their excitement as they showed up in droves. The artist gave a worthy one-hour solid crowd engaging performance, welcoming on stage one of her fans (Nifemi) to a dance-off. Eye-gazing to her female fans who lip-synced to specific lyrics and could relate to Simi’s female empowering messaging, like the stanza in the Joromi single where she said, “I dey give you signal (Joromi) Why you no dey see me ah (Joromi) I give you green light tire (Joromi Joro) Omo ki lo n bubble o (Joromi) Make you no dey fumble o (Joromi) I go shoot my shoti o Joro…” which woman wouldn’t relate? The star also spoke at the camera and asked fans directly, “Check out my latest album, To Be Honest (Tbh),” she said.
Additional performances included Isaac Geralds, the Ayo Band, Kadii, Iguochi, and Tobby Drillz
A grand opening of such a culturally relevant new institution as Ékó House wouldn’t be marked significant without the recognition of County and State agencies who have played a vital role in ensuring the successful establishment of the restaurant businesses in the region. During the ribbon cutting, when it came time for the County and State to present their citations, it was impressive to have witnessed the restaurant receive three astounding special recognitions from Maryland Senators Cheryl C. Kagan, Ben Cardin, and Chris Van Hollen.
The citation from Senator Cheryl C. Kagan on behalf of Montgomery County, read “The senate of city of Maryland citation presented to Ékó House congratulates you on your grand opening. I am sure your cultural bites will help Rockville climb new experiences. We wish Ékó House much success and inner “peas”. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
The founders thanked Tums Social for managing the event, TANTV for providing media coverage and esteemed guests such as the Nigerian ambassador, Pastor Omo Ghandi, Rockville Chambers of Commerce, Rockville Economic Development Center, international afro beats artist Simi and of course friends and family especially the founders’ wives, “for allowing them to dream big”, they said.
A guest at the event who lives in Montgomery County said, “I am so happy we have a place like this. My husband is from Liberia – so to have a luxurious space where we can dine elegantly, mingle and enjoy the beautiful artworks with great ambiance is amazing!”
The goal for Ékó House is to fuse Nigerian Staples within the American cultural palate and style of dining; to attract a more diverse customer base that can appreciate the uniqueness of a West-African cuisine while experiencing it in a fine dining setting. To bring people to a place where they can be happy, have fun and call home. Modern upscale restaurants such as the likes of Swahili Village and now Ékó House, are changing the playing field of what the future of African fine dining looks like in America.