According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, food is a basic need to man. To further lay emphasis on how essential food is to man, Abraham Maslow posited “It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” Perhaps, the biggest emphasis on the importance of food to man is in the Holy Bible; “Man shall not live by bread alone…”. In a layman’s knowledge, the Bible is simply saying that bread is a necessity for man, but however, not the only thing man needs for survival.
It is a common knowledge that one outstanding feature and sight attraction in Akwa Ibom state is the variety of delicacies. Akwa Ibom is blessed with variety of foods. Our delicacies are part of our beautiful and rich cultural heritage. In their research work; “Environmental and Cultural Dynamics in Nutrition: A Comparison of Food Patterns in Two Nigerian Societies”, Abiodun and Nseabasi noted that because of the variety of delicious delicacies abound in Ibibio (Akwa Ibom), an average Akwa Ibom person has an unusual love for food.
From close observations, it is discovered that there is a high patronage of fast food restaurants among Akwa Ibom people, especially the working class. A nutritionist in the state, Dr. Sydney Ekah says “there is an abnormal overreliance on fast food restaurants among the male folks in Akwa Ibom state and sadly, they are introducing the female folks into it”. When asked what could be the reason behind the trend, Dr Ekah said “it is because a typical Akwa Ibom man is lazy but loves food”. The increased number of fast food restaurants within Uyo, the state capital, in recent years further gives credence to Dr. Ekah’s opinion.
Located along the popular Aka Road, Uyo, Eka Udo is a local fast food restaurant that is gaining popularity especially, among the youths and the middle-class on daily basis. A few distance from Eka Udo, are two renowned (nationwide) eateries, Crunches and the defunct Grand Tastes. The unique thing about Eka Udo is, it is not like most local restaurants, that vend all kinds of food, though low quality and usually characterized by unhygienic surroundings, neither does it fall into the class of high-class eateries like Crunches, Pepperoni, Kilimanjaro, Food Affairs, and the rest. Eka Udo is not operating in a small kiosk like a typical local restaurant and not in a beautiful edifice like the eateries; it is an open air restaurant that stays in-between with a unique identity.
For customers of Eka Udo, the most outstanding thing about the restaurant is its ability to provide such services obtainable in high-class eateries but at the prices of local restaurants. For instance, the buffet style of services where dishes are displayed on the counter and customers queue-up to place their order. Also, like in the eateries, Eka Udo has special lidded plates which are used to serve take-away for customers who do not wish to eat at the restaurant. With as little as N400, one can afford a plate of rice and beans, garnished with stew, fried plantain and fried fish or a mouthful goat meat. The restaurant is also renowned for its tasty meals.
“As a customer, I expect to get quality service for my money even if it’s a kobo. For me, when it comes to food vendoring, Eka Udo is the best in Uyo when you consider the quality of her services and the prices as against what is obtainable elsewhere. For instance, it is only in the local restaurants that you can buy food at the prices sold here in Eka Udo but trust me, there is no local restaurant that matches Eka Udo in terms of quality and quantity. And if you go to the eateries, you can not get the kind of quantity like here in Eka Udo, even at the exorbitant prices. And meals at the eateries are not reliable because most of them use food additive”, said Moses Udonwa, a regular customer at Eka Udo.
Interestingly, Eka Udo does not have a signpost, or a billboard and has never sponsored any paid advert as form of creating public awareness about its services, yet the customers are increasing on daily basis. When some of the customers were asked how they got to know about the restaurant, almost all of them said it was through referrals. It appears that all the buzzing on social media and other public places by satisfied customers, are rubbing off positively on the restaurant.
“Nowadays, everybody especially the young people, take selfies at Eka Udo. They ordinary will not do that at other local restaurants and only very few of them can afford to patronize eateries. But they come here in groups so Eka Udo is more than just a restaurant”, Mr. Udonwa added.
Contrary to popular opinion that only unmarried people are regular customers to fast food restaurants, recent discovery at Eka Udo reveals that married people also patronize restaurants for various reasons. Commenting on this, Mrs. Dorathy Akpan, another regular customer of Eka Udo, revealed that she was introduced to Eka Udo some years ago by her then fiance (now husband) and that the restaurant has been their favourite whenever they want to eat out even as a married couple.
“I cannot remember exactly when I first came here but I can recall that it was my fiance then, who by the grace of God, is now my husband, that brought me here for the first time. This was his favorite restaurant as a bachelor so before we go married, we had already become regular customers here. There is a sense of recreation around here that is why you hardly see people come here alone. They come in groups and cliques.
“So, it not just about the food. There is a social life here that you cannot get in any of the big eateries because there, everybody minds their business. Eka Udo was our favorite place before we got married and it is still our favorite. But unlike before, we now come here once or twice a week. As you can see, my husband is over there chatting with his friends because he has not seen them for some days. There are other married people here also”, she said.Unlike other restaurants, Eka Udo only sells breakfast cereal like rice, beans, with fried/cooked plantain, goat and cow meats. The restaurant also undertakes (indoor and outdoor) catering, event planning/management and home delivery services. The restaurant has a sitting capacity of 45 people. On daily basis, no fewer than 200 customers patronize Eka Udo. According to one of the sales girls, between 9AM to 12PM, when the restaurant usually operates, the customers consume two bags of rice everyday. For many residents of Uyo, Eka Udo gives them the same feeling Iya Basira gives to the people of Lagos.
“In Lagos, it is Iya Basira. I don’t know who’s reigning in Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Ibadan, Jos or Benue but here in Uyo, we know Eka Udo”, said James Ekanem, another regular customer at Eka Udo. He added; “Sometimes, I sit and wonder what their secret is. Is it the location? Is it the stew? Is it rice, beans, boiled yam, fried fish, Kanda (kpomo), Goat meat, beef or plantain?”. Ekanem is only one among those who are questioning the secret behind Eka Udo’s success. In fact, many people have taken the suspicion to another level with insinuations that there is more than meet the eyes. There are fears that the increasing love for the restaurant might not be ordinary.
Reacting to these worries, the chief chef and the owner of the restaurant, Mrs. Eka Udo said that the secret behind her success in food business is “God, years of hardwork and commitment”, adding that she also had a little beginning like most successful business people. According to her, the determination to run a restaurant business differently brought about the uniqueness in her restaurant.
Mrs. Udo said that the restaurant has been doing business for over a decade and has served some big personalities in the state. Asked what exactly she does to keep her customers so satisfied, she said; “When people pay for something, they expect the best. So, I serve my customers the best food in the best way. It’s not just about the food. The way we serve them is also important to us. Here, we treat our customers with respect”.
Besides good and tasty meals, quality services and a serene environment, which endears customers to Eka Udo restaurant, the restaurant is also renowned for its unique customer reward. As a way of rewarding its customers, every year, the restaurant sets aside a day in December, tagged “Eka Udo Free Day” for customers to eat free of charge. When asked if there will be “Eka Udo free day” this year considering the present high cost of food stuff in the market, Mrs. Udo smiled and said “The high price of food stuff in the market has affected our prices for sometime now but our customers are still loyal so we will reward them”.
Following the present high cost of food items in the market, the prices of food at the restaurant have been slightly increased. According to Mrs. Udo, a big of rice which was sold between N8,500 and N10,000 before, now sells for N21,000, adding that the increase affects almost all other items. “So, we don’t run out of business, we had to make slight increase in our prices, too. But we are still maintaining our quality and quantity”, she said. With the new development, a plate of rice is now sold for at least N200 as against N150 before while a plate of beans has increased from N50 to N100 at the restaurant.
But surprisingly, it seems the increase does not bother the customers who still throng into the restaurant every morning. There is still the usual morning traffic witnessed by road users along Aka Road close to the entrance to Eka Udo because of the fleet of cars parked by the customers. In their reactions, some of customers said that the development has affected every restaurant but that Eka Udo still offers the “best deal” In terms of quality and quantity. “Besides, if you compare the increments, you will find out that Eka Udo is the least. It’s only N50”, a customer said.
* Edidiong Udobia writes from Uyo