An ongoing look at the industry's faces of diversity.If running a catering business is difficult, then imagine having to run one without a telephone, silverware—or even a stove.
That's exactly what restaurateur Raz Ademosu's grandmother did while he was growing up in his small hometown of Ibandan, Nigeria. It was there that Ademosu, today the owner of Raz'z Bar & Grill in Nashville, TN, got his first taste of the restaurant industry.
"In Africa we didn't have stoves; we didn't have appliances. We made a fire out of wood, and cooked," Ademosu says. Of course, there were no telephones, either. So to staff her catered events, Ademosu's grandmother would send him around to people's houses, where the boy would announce: "Grandma wants you to be at the house on Thursday because we have a party to cater."
Ademosu's grandmother died when he was six, but he again found himself in the restaurant world in London, where he had moved at the age of 16. Working nights in the kitchen of a French-American restaurant, he says, rekindled memories of the catering business in Nigeria, and he decided on restaurants as a career.
Visiting some friends at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Ademosu decided to stay. He landed a job as a dishwasher and prep cook at a local Cooker unit—and he decided to stay there, too. Ademosu would spend the next 14 years working his way up the ranks, ultimately to kitchen manager and then corporate training.
But Ademosu's grandmother had been an entrepreneur, and that's what he wanted to be. So he decided to strike out on his own, following some consultation. "I prayed to God, and said, 'God if this is your will, let me branch off and have my own restaurant,' " says Ademosu, "and I made it happen."
Using his grandmother's recipes and "not a lot" of capital, Ademosu opened Raz'z, a family restaurant. He serves crowd-pleasing fare (pasta, burgers, chicken fingers), dressed with his native influences (the gumbo's kick comes from African dry root and wild rice.)
In a city where you can't throw a rock without hitting a major casual-dining chain, Raz'z is a bit of an unlikely player. But the place's popularity doesn't surprise Ademosu. The locals are loyal (90% of his customers are regulars, he says), and his grandmother's recipes ("transformed to the American style, to be more incredible") help his place to stand out. But the most important reason is the intangible one: a particular moxie that comes from growing up in a culture with little of the affluence and conveniences that can be found in Nashville. It gave him a perspective no local could have, and considerable patience and will.
"It was a great advantage for me, a kid of 19 years old, to come to America and have a dream," he says. "I never ate with silverware when I was in Africa, but when I came to America and started eating with silverware, I knew that this was the land of opportunity, as they always said."