Sitting at the edge of North Pleasant street the cheerful, brightly colored Baku’s restaurant has shut its doors for good. After eleven humble years of business serving as a restaurant and community center for many, Mrs. Pat Ononibaku has decided that she is at a stage in her life where she is ready to move on from the restaurant industry.
At 58-years-old Mrs. Ononibaku brought her wisdom and 30 years of food industry experience into her own restaurant which she treated as a cultural stomping ground for people of all ages. As the owner, she aimed for her restaurant to to be a learning experience for diners stating that, “when people walk in, it has to be an educational experience for them.”
Not only did she take the diner’s experience and education on African culture into consideration but Mrs. Ononibaku fostered her student-workers as mother would for her own children. She said that during the hiring process “I screened very carefully. They had to be open minded. They couldn’t be judgmental,” because her restaurant was open to people from all walks of life.
This characteristic was inspired by Mrs. Ononibaku’s own experiences with racism and prejudice. When the Ononibakus began their search for a property for rent they were met with great contempt. Store owners were hesitant to rent their spaces for fear that the building “would smell weird” because of type of food being cooked. This only served as motivation to keep looking until her spot and her voice was recognized in Amherst.
Coming from a home where all people were welcomed to come sit and watch tv or grab a bite to eat, Mrs. Ononibaku said that in Africa, “Food is seen as friendship. Something to celebrate with.” She extends this belief to the homeless sitting outside of her shop and the students who wonder in, wide-eyed and curios. Ononibaku excitedly sat up in her seat with a huge grin on her face when she said that, “food is the center of life.”
She chose her restaurant with an open kitchen concept in mind so that she and her staff would be able to have a two way conversation with the guests. This was an idea brought from home where many women would be in the kitchen at once, each with their own job in order to help each other. Mothers, sisters and aunts would be washing and chopping, “it is never an isolated task,” she proclaimed.
Although Ononibaku acknowledges that there will be some vibrancy missing from North Pleasant street she is more than eager to be closing Baku’s. She said that being a business owner is constant worry, joking that sometimes she would go home and wonder if she turned the stoves off. More than anything Ononibaku will miss her customers and feels that her customers will miss Baku’s for “its symbol.”