//Sade Adebayo stands in the door of her food truck Sweet Pepper Kitchen on July 24. Photo by Toluwanimi Obiwole | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: The use of the word “auntie” in this article is a cultural term and does not directly refer to someone of blood relation, but rather represents a kinship that Nigerians all over the world feel with one another. Thus, we call each other by familial titles.
Sweet Pepper Kitchen, Colorado’s first Nigerian food truck, has just opened in Aurora, and community auntie and owner, Sade Adebayo, deserves her flowers.
On a hot, washed-out Tuesday afternoon, a small gathering of mostly African people, curls around Sweet Pepper Kitchen’s shiny red trailer, enjoying their takeaway plates the way Africans do: laughing and heartily telling stories. I recognize most of them from various Nigerian parties and from growing up in Denver. After ordering a plate of jollof rice and chicken, I joined the fun, realizing that for many of us, this was our first time reconnecting since Denver locked down in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sade, the trailer’s owner, emerges from behind a steaming pot, frantically smoothing her hair and apologizing for her appearance, “I’ve just been cooking all day, don’t mind me!” she says while laughing. I smile and assure her she looks perfect. Sade is is a woman with a commanding presence, ideal for herding children, preaching sermons and giving sharp kitchen direction.
If you grew up as a Nigerian youth in Denver, then at some point you’ve tasted Sade’s cooking. Food has always been central to our weddings, naming ceremonies and anything we could justify celebrating. Auntie Sade has been there for it all, lovingly patting our meat pies into shape, carefully spicing our jollof rice and boiling mountains of moin moin, or blended boiled beans, with precision.
I remember helping Auntie, along with other community children, haul large coolers of palm oil-dressed food through hotel lobbies and onto rows of tables for hungry, impatient elders who timed their arrival with that of our bounty. In addition to feeding us, Auntie Sade was one who regularly called the youth in the community, just to hear about our lives, passions and to offer her support for our dreams.
We embraced Auntie Sade’s love and food without question, and far too often, without proper gratitude. I sat down for this interview with the intention of prying open and savoring Auntie’s work, hoping to extend the delicacy to you.
So, where did this dream begin?
The whole story started in 2003, and that was when I started [thinking] on the issue of cooking. It started as fun or a hobby and gradually I planned to have my own restaurant. But it was just so expensive, with so many conditions, and it was taking forever. I just wanted a kitchen, so I decided to try a food truck. But I love the food truck because I love to move around, so I can reach more people and be in the community.
Where did your love of cooking come from?
I loved cooking as a child. My mother used to give me leftover yam flour to play with when she finished her cooking, and I would make my own recipes and play.
You’ve been cooking for Nigerian parties for years, did you feel supported by your community when opening this business?
When you talk of support, do you mean morally or financially?
Well, I feel supported spiritually by my church community, emotionally and socially. Financially, there were purchases here and there [from the community] that added up to help me purchase the [trailer]. When I catered weddings and gatherings that my community paid me for, it gave me the fire and encouragement I needed to even see myself going beyond and having this truck
What fears or obstacles did you face in opening this business?
Honestly, there were a lot of challenges. I wondered, who will patronize me?
There were some fears about who would buy the food and others that came from within me. You know, sometimes, you can be your worst barrier. I had to trust in myself that I could actually do it. That was the first challenge.
Then sometimes, you hear people say bad things about you that really discourage you. But my pastor urged me to stay focused, and I did.
The second challenge was that I had watched people who attempted to start Nigerian restaurants. People with all their money, and papers in order, and it still didn’t work out for them. I thought- “you people have done so much without result, why do I think I can do my own?”-But I put that fear aside and stayed focused, and I know I will go beyond this. This trailer is just the beginning.
The vision is beyond me. Sometimes when I write out my plans, I feel like a crazy woman, but I think, let me start from somewhere.
How did COVID-19 impact your opening?
I rode on the wings of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, I was teaching and cooking here and there. But being out of work, I needed something to do with my hands, so I was pushed to fulfill my dream. COVID-19 was a challenge, but in it, sha, I found a blessing.
What about this work brings you joy?
Oh I’m so excited, sometimes, it’s not even about the money, you know? I love meeting people, but the joy of people coming in and finding what they really want to eat and not just, you know going to a restaurant and eating whatever. When you want your own authentic taste, you can come and eat what you want. You know we don’t use preservatives, and our food is not easy to make so we cook all day with fresh ingredients. But that joy of giving people good food.
Support Sade’s trailer in the parking lot of Lagos International Market 15353 E 6th Ave, Aurora, CO 80011.
Sweet Pepper Kitchen is on Instagram @sweetpepperkitchen.