New food truck Fork in Nigeria perseveres during pandemic, gets a boost from TikTok

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Chef Prej Iroegbu had an uphill battle trying to open a food truck during a pandemic, but the former General Motors employee persevered and debuted Fork in Nigeria over the summer, causing diners to line up for a chance to taste the flavors and dishes of his homeland. 

"The first month was really good, we did so much business, we were getting overwhelmed," he said, adding that he has his usual spots where he parks the food truck, but often gets invited to visit specific cities. "We had the city of Ann Arbor call us ... so we pulled up to the Ann Arbor's farmer's market. We got so overwhelmed that day, people were waiting in line for four hours. They just wanted to try something different."

Chef Prej Iroegbu from Fork in Nigeria food truck.

He said while there were months of red tape to get the Fork in Nigeria truck straight with the health department, once he was able to operate, the COVID-19 pandemic gave him a bit of an edge (Although it made it tough to gett some of his imported Nigerian ingredients and spices).

A customer invited him to serve food to Chrysler employees over the summer he said, because so many restaurants were shut down but they wanted to give the employees hot food. Fork in Nigeria started doing service there as well as parking on the Avenue of Fashion daily. 

A few months into his new journey as a food entrepreneur, a lucky and unpredictable thing happened.

A West African dish that can be hard to find around Michigan suddenly went viral on the social media video platform TikTok. The "fufu challenge" had TikTok users posting video of themselves trying the African dish, which is a soft white ball made from pounded yams and is popular in Ghana and Nigeria. 

The challenge was called out by some as being disrespectful as some of the TikTok users spit out the fufu, and the whole idea that eating African food was a "challenge" understandably irked some people. 

The popularity of the trend, however, inspired TikTok users to seek out fufu locally, which was great for Fork in Nigeria. Iroegbu sells fufu with his egusi stew, edikang ikong (spinach and kale stew) and tomato stew. 

"It really exposed us to the 12, 13 and 14-year-olds on TikTok," he said. "If you came here 2 to 3 weeks ago, you would think there was an iPhone being launched. They bring their parents, asking them to buy them fufu so they can make a TikTok video."

Besides the boost from TikTok, Iroegbu — who prides himself on using all-natural ingredients and makes everything fresh — says he's been doing well because he can travel around and there aren't a lot of food trucks serving African cuisine, let alone food specific to Nigeria. He said while many African restaurants in America serve both Caribbean and African food, he wants to stick to all the diversity of cuisine in Nigeria alone. 

After launching over the summer, Fork in Nigeria food truck has expanded to two trucks and a catering van.

He's also expanding, working out a franchise deal to open a Fork in Nigeria food truck later this month to serve the Columbus, Ohio, area. He's debuting a catering truck soon, too, so he and his team can get jollof rice, oxtail, goat shank, puff puff, and of course fufu, into the hands of more customers. 

Find the Fork in Nigeria truck daily at 19228 Livernois in Detroit. Call (248) 764-0155 or visit Customers close enough can order delivery through DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats. 

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Twitter: @melodybaetens