Emeka reveals what happened behind-the-scenes of our #VOOM voting campaign and shares the emotional highs and lows of the last few months of his Chuku's journey.
We had blown it. From one nil up to 3-1 down in 45 mins. Liverpool were trying to ruin my birthday week. When Daniel Sturridge had scored I had found myself on my mate’s back, the memories of our 5-4 win vs Alaves in 2001– still my most cherished birthday present - flooding back. This year it wasn’t to be. At full-time I consoled a 50-year old woman crying. The pain was raw. This time there was no Istanbul comeback moment.
I flicked on my phone. Not for social media at this time, but to check Chuku’s position on the #VOOM leaderboard. We had entered the competition with the dream of pitching Nigerian tapas to Richard Branson but were struggling to maintain our early good position. And we had slipped again! Double sucker punch. This I could affect though. Back home within the hour and I was back on the canvas trail. Primary school friends, old school teachers, past flames: “Hello! Vote for me. Vote for us. Vote for Chuku’s – the world’s first Nigerian tapas lounge”
5 days later and I had barely slept and I was quickly running out of contacts. Voting closed at midnight and our position had worsened further, we were 105th. How? We had worked so hard. Ifey, leading the campaign, had worked so hard. As her older brother, I felt I had let her down and, for once, I couldn’t confidently tell her it was going to turn out alright. My mind wandered back to us as kids watching Cool Runnings – a terrible move, with awful Jamaican accents but an emotional storyline. It was our favourite movie. Derice Bannock and his bobsleigh team always believed, they never gave up. We were up against it but we had to fight!
We called in our cavalry of friends and family. #VoteChukus became the official hashtag and we pushed! By lunchtime we had climbed 10 places. Now it was about the hold, maintaining our position until after 5pm and people finished work. We took to the streets. Schoolkids outside the chicken shop, shopkeepers in their afternoon lull, we recruited them all. My mum rapped on all the neighbour's doors: “Vote for my kids. Vote for us. Vote for Chuku’s – the worlds’ first Nigerian tapas lounge”.
As evening approach we slipped just inside the top 80. The first time we’d been so high in the last week. But then we slipped again. Back down to 85th. We were being tested. It was now 9pm, we had 3 hours left. Roared on by Twitter, #votechukus and our mum, we literally rolled up our sleeves. Short-sharp messages rattled out from our fingertips. How dare you be in my phonebook, be going to bed and have not voted for Chuku’s.
We dragged ourselves back into the top 80. And then we started to climb: 81, 79, 77. Still precariously close. We didn’t speak, we didn’t want to jinx it. We pushed on. By 11.45pm, we were 55th. I started to smile. We had never been this high. We were going to do it, surely. As the clock struck midnight, we looked at each other beaming. Fist pumps all round. Then we slumped in our sofa, exhausted. We had done it. 2023 votes in. More people than had ever been to our pop up. This was our Istanbul moment.
This emotional rollercoaster has been symptomatic of the last 9 months. From our 1st ticket sales, to working as a chef in a 5 star hotel, to featuring on TV, radio and the press. There have been so many highs. But matched by many lows, times of physical pain and mental strain, moments of self-doubt. But the support has been unwavering. From my amazing business partner, close family and good friends. To the chop-chat-chillers that have championed us and the random positive messages that have warmed my heart. Thank you! You make the ride so much better and I’m loving it.
As I enter my 26th year with the summer shaping up so nicely, I’m excited. Tomorrow (May 30th) we are popping up at our first festival – Africa at Spitalfields. On Thursday (June 2nd) we will take part in #VOOM's Pitchathon, pitching to established business professionals as part of a Guinness World Record attempt of 160 back-to-back pitches over 29 hours. Then on Friday (June 3rd) we open our month-long summer residency at The Canvas Café, Shoreditch – London’s first happy café. Lots and lots more to look forward to. I hope you’re enjoying the ride as much as I am.