Obinna Nwagboso and his wife Kelechi opened their African restaurant Keobi in April 2020, just after the pandemic struck. It was a tough decision for them, Nwagboso says, but they had already come so far, it was unthinkable to turn back. “We tried to wait it out, but it didn’t seem like it was getting under control. We had a plan, and we said, you know what, we’ll just open,” explains Nwagboso. “I don’t think if we hadn’t opened that we’d have the courage to open it now.”
In April, the couple celebrated the restaurant’s one-year anniversary.
The restaurant is the first Nigerian restaurant to open in the Capital Region, and the only place locally where you can find sub-Saharan food. Located right on Lark Street near the intersection of Washington Avenue, serves a large clientele of African transplants and local foodies. Nwagboso says the largely Nigerian menu at the restaurant is popular with both people who have emigrated to the US and to Americans who like to try to new things, especially people looking for spicy foods and vegetarian-friendly food.
The menu includes classic Nigerian dishes like jollof rice, edikaikong, peanut soup, fufu, pepper soups, curry goat, and moi moi, as well as delicacies like spiced cow feet, goats head, and peppered goat meat and snails.
Nwagboso and his wife Kelechi have over 40 years of combined culinary arts experience between them. They wanted to open a restaurant when they first moved to the US from Nigeria in 2009 and 2010 respectively, but the country was in the full throes of the housing crisis at that point, and both thought they should wait. They started their family, and ultimately moved from NYC to Albany, seeking a better quality of life. That’s when they finally began making moves to make their restaurant dream a reality. They signed their contract for the space at 189 Lark Street in early 2020 – and then COVID struck. Nwagboso says they had a long discussion about what to do, but ultimately decided to move forward with their plans. They had done a lot of market research prior to going into business and felt confident that customers would seek them out.
And they were right.
The couple has been able to successfully ride out the pandemic by meeting emerging needs and staying in close contact with their customers. By serving food curbside and via delivery, they have managed to knock together a pretty steady lunch and dinner crowd. The couple has also pivoted to serve customers in new ways, including a mini-catering service for special occasions and offering takeout dinners for families on the run. They have also kept up a steady stream of content on their website, with articles around special holidays, health benefits of African foods, and special promotions.
To help support their work, the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region awarded the couple a small business grant of $5,000 in February. “The grant is a huge boost for us,” says Nwagboso. The grant will assist us with the expense of retrofitting the restaurant space for COVID.”
As the state continues to reopen and vaccination rates continue to climb, the couple hopes to be able to add cooking classes to their business so that they can spread their love of Nigerian cooking. “We are here to provide fresh, authentic and delicious African meals to Albany and the surrounding environment.”