Prej Iroegbu wasn’t sure his food-truck business, Fork in Nigeria, would survive the early days of the pandemic. The business was too new to qualify for a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep it afloat. But now, as he approaches his one-year anniversary in June, business is booming, thanks to social media.
To celebrate his success and plan for a family-style restaurant opening later this year in Cass Corridor (Spoiler: Seating will be on the floor and diners will eat with their hands), Iroegbu is giving away free shots of liquor on Wednesday, May 5, at the Nigerian food truck’s home base on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion.
The Cinco de Mayo giveaway is also Iroegbu’s way of piloting a liquor line he’s envisioning developing for the coming restaurant, which he hopes to open in summer 2021 on Woodward Avenue. In return, he’s asking customers to give feedback on his tequila, which he looks to develop with Toronto-based Siempre Tequila, and perhaps other local brands.
Importing the right liquor was too difficult, so Iroegbu thought he’d try to make it himself. “We decided to go to Nigeria, get the flavors and get the extractors, and make them,” he says.
Fork in Nigeria has been rapidly expanding since the winter, thanks to the social media #FufuChallenge, which sent TikTok users in search of the western African staple fufu (pounded yam), which Iroegbu sells with leafy green egusi or soup. Business exploded. “If it wasn’t for that challenge, we would have struggled a lot of more,” he tells Eater.
Besides fufu, the truck sells Nigerian staples jollof rice, suya steak, goat shank, oxtail, and snacks, for starters.
Fork in Nigeria isn’t stopping its expansion at Woodward Avenue: Iroegbu is also launching a truck in Columbus, Ohio in May. The trucks are also building on successful pop-ups in Shelby Township, Ann Arbor, and Detroit’s east side, with permanent schedules in those spots.
“Over on Eight Mile and Gratiot, I always have 60 people in line each time,” he says of his love for the customer base on the east side. Livernois, on the west side, is already saturated with a long history of quality restaurants, Iroegbu says.
Because the business doesn’t have a liquor license, the drinks he’s giving out on May 5 aren’t for sale, and customers must be 21 or older to get a test shot.
“I don’t want to embark in mass production and in six months somebody says, ‘This is garbage!’” Iroegbu says.
Fork in Nigeria is at Livernois and Cambridge (near Seven Mile). Drink samples are available until 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 5.