When Patience Ogunbanjo moved to Phoenix in 2016, she couldn't find a single Nigerian restaurant in the city. She quickly realized there was "lack of diverse food options," in her new community and decided to do something about it.
Owning a food truck was a natural trajectory for Ogunbanjo. Her grandmother owned a restaurant and bodega and Ogunbanjo grew up learning many Nigerian recipes. Distance from her native country pushed her to cook traditional dishes.
Oftentimes, friends would ask, "Can you cook me that rice I tasted at your house?" Or, "do you think you can make this dish?" Ogunbanjo took that as a sign and started catering small parties and events in 2016. She also sold food trays to the catered events at General Mills and the Urban Expo, at High Street Farmers Market, and at festivals around town.
Her success in catering events and selling food trays compelled her to grow her business in 2018.
"We expanded our business to corporate and large event catering. In the same year, we joined the inaugural class of Airbnb's cooking collection for experiences and began to teach some of our signature dishes," Ogunbanjo says. These teaching experiences were held in private homes for Airbnb guests.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, "we added another dimension to the dining experience by teaching some of our dishes virtually," Ogunbanjo says. "Once the world opened back up in 2022, we began to host a culinary dining experience called, OWAMBE. These are flamboyant and extravagant Nigerian parties featuring a chance to sample the food, culture, and heritage."
During these cooking experiences, which enhanced the pop-up concept, there were typically 30 to 35 guests.
"I would serve a five-course meal and pair it with Nigerian cocktails like the Champman," Ogunbanjo says, describing the ruby red drink which is made with orange juice, limeade, lemonade, black currant juice, angostura bitters, with cucumber, lemon, orange, and grapefruit slices.
She would also incorporate different games, as well as traditional clothing, like the gele, a head wrap that is worn by Nigerian women.
"That's how the food truck was born," she says. The food truck's tagline is "Nigerian food, but make it for everyone."
Her signature staple is jollof rice, which Ogunbanjo says is "like the heartbeat of West Africa." It is a one-pot dish that is cooked with the "Nigerian trifecta," which she describes as "a mixture of red bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions that are blended down and cooked with various West African spices."
On Ogunbanjo's food truck, the rice can be enhanced with chicken broth or ordered vegan, gluten-free, or vegetarian. The spice level can also be adjusted. Another popular dish is the puff puff, which can double as an appetizer or dessert.
A popular savory dish, suya, is another favorite. It is a thinly sliced beef dish traditionally served on skewers.
"It is a food you would often find sold on the side of the street with raw onions and tomatoes," she says. She has decided to remix the dish and add a little Southwest flair by creating tacos with the same delicious beef marinaded with a peanut spice rub.
Ogunbanjo plans to serve six dishes to start. The truck will carry various soft drinks as well as a Nigerian drink called Zobo which is made with hibiscus flowers, pineapple, and orange with sugar and honey. Food prices range from $3 to a combo price of $18. Ogunbanjo plans for Lasgidi Cafe to participate in food truck festivals and private events. Those who want to request the food truck can do so on its website.
Ogunbanjo feels a calling to share her culture and its food with Phoenix.
"It's my purpose in life to showcase the country," she says. "Food is something that always brings people together and the awareness of that community always drives me and fuels my passion. It's like my light that keeps my blood going and keeps me pumping."
Soft opening weekend:
Friday, February 24 at Founding Fathers Kitchen, 1050 West Ray Road, Chandler
Saturday, February 25 at Cactus Taproom, 20429 North Lake Pleasant Road, #104, Peoria
Sunday, February 26 at Pure Juice N' Joy, 2155 East University Drive, #104, Tempe