With a passion for cooking and sharing her culture through food, Chef Gabi Odebode wants to bring her Afromeals concept to Springfield.
Originally from Ghana, Odebode immigrated to the U.S. with her family when she was 9, but kept a deep-rooted connection to the flavors and favorite foods that are part of her heritage.
She first launched her Afromeals business as a home business when she and her family lived in Maryland in 2014.
“I was pregnant and craving this pastry called puff-puff, and it wasn’t at any restaurant I could find around us,” Odebode says.
So she made some herself, and quickly found there was a market for the treat. She started a catering business, offering not only puff-puff but also some of her other favorite dishes.
Odebode, who has a master’s in Biology, was working her full-time job doing oncology clinical research while also running her Afromeals side hustle.
In 2018, Odebode, her husband Iyanu, and their children moved to Cincinnati after Iyanu took on a position at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Though she first secured a teaching job at the University of Cincinnati, the mother of three decided to turn it down because of challenges with juggling work and childcare. And she soon realized she instead wanted to follow her passion.
“Doing cooking and making pastries on the side, I realized I didn’t find as much joy in research as I did in cooking,” Odebode says. “I felt it was God telling me to focus on my business.”
So, Odebode pursued her dreams in Cincinnati. In March 2019, her book Afromeals: 30-Minutes Meals and More was published, and by the end of 2019 she had released a mix for her infamous puff-puff pastries.
She reached out to local cooking schools and started offering classes in January 2020, but as COVID-19 shutdowns hit in mid-March, her cooking class dreams had to move to a back burner.
Instead, she used the time to release a line of Afromeals seasonings, which are available in some locally-owned groceries, including Jungle Jim's International Market, and will soon be available in Whole Foods.
This weekend, she’s taking another leap by hosting her first pop-up tasting event – Taste of Afromeals – in Springfield’s COhatch – The Market.
“We’re reaching out in Springfield because we would like to move the business to Springfield, and we’re hoping to see the response to see if this would be a good move,” Odebode says.
And she’s hopeful. She’ll be taking advantage of the available-to-rent Shared Kitchen space in COhatch, which boasts commercial-grade kitchen equipment and a service counter with seating.
The pop-up will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Saurday, Dec. 19. A variety of food options will be available, and everything will be free. Odebode says she wants to give people an opportunity to taste her food – a chance to enjoy it – so they’ll want to come back for more as customers in the future.
She’s hoping for lots of interest, and she’s excited for a chance to interact with potential customers to help connect the culture with the food Afromeals serves.
“I want people to come ready to eat and ready to have an experience and not to be afraid,” she says.
Food samples at the pop-up will be boxes so visitors can take them to-go or to enjoy in some of COhatch’s socially distanced eating spots. Odebode says she’s excited to share a part of Afromeals with Springfield, and she has worked to ensure tastings will be provided in a COVID-safe way.
“I believe people would appreciate what I do,” Odebode says. “Not just the catering, but bringing another thing people can do. We’ll offer cooking classes not just for adults, but also kids classes, mom and me classes, dad and me classes – we just want to bring something to help enhance and add to Springfield and bring more things to do here.
“Being here, lots of people have said great things about Springfield, and we want to do our best to add to what is already going on here.”
For Odebode, launching her business in Springfield would also be about bringing more jobs here. She says she remembers how hard it was to find flexible work that allowed her to have a job while caring for her kids, and she’s interested in trying to provide work with flexible hours to meet people’s needs.
She’s also excited to become a part of Springfield’s small business community and to collaborate with other entrepreneurs.
“My husband and I, we like to build community. It all comes back to community,” Odebode says. “That’s why we want to come to Springfield. We want to help the community to grow, and we know that when your community grows you benefit from it, too.
“Our ultimate goal is to help support the community growth and to be a part of it. We want to be lifting.”