Joel Olujide (W '23) started his time at Penn a little differently from the rest—by activating Hill’s fire alarm on the first day of school.
“I set off the fire alarm and the whole dorm had to be evacuated,” Joel says. “I looked out the window and the whole building was flashing.” He laughs about the experience and assures me that everything was fine, saying that Hill’s smoke detectors are extremely sensitive. Since then, though, he's gone on the start a business at Penn based on one of his biggest passions—food.
Joel cooks some of his favorite dishes every Friday at the dorm’s fourth floor community kitchen, and sells this food to other students who are craving home cooked meals. He goes through the same process every week: He posts an order sheet on multiple student groups online to see how many people want to order a five–dollar plate. Based on those numbers, he goes to the grocery store to buy the necessary items for that week’s meal. Once he gets his ingredients, he cooks every Friday at around 5 p.m. and waits for people to pick up their orders a couple of hours later.
He cooks about twenty meals a week and is hoping to expand to around thirty, noting that even students from Drexel and Temple have been reaching out to purchase his meals. So far, he has cooked dishes such as barbecue chicken drumsticks and tomato cream shrimp pasta.
When I ask why he decided to start this business at Penn, he tells me that it’s a great way to earn some extra money while doing something he enjoys. “This is the first time that I have ever sold my food and seeing the positive responses has been extremely humbling,” he says.
He has been cooking for around five years now, as he started the summer before eighth grade during a family vacation. “My mom just told me ‘you should start cooking,’ because I didn’t really have any talents,” he laughs. “I felt like I wanted to find something I really loved.”
Since then, he has taught himself how to cook by trying new, unique recipes every week. Each recipe requires different techniques, which Joel would mostly learn by watching videos and practicing at home. Besides a brief, three–week course on cooking basics that he attended in eighth grade, Joel is self–taught.
Most of his practice came from cooking for his family back home. He mentions that he can’t wait to see them during Thanksgiving break, which is his favorite holiday, noting that his mom probably would have a really hard time making all the food without his help.
Joel is currently a student at Wharton and is exploring his career options in business, but one of his goals is to eventually do what he loves the most by exploring the restaurant industry. In the future, he hopes to mix his Nigerian heritage with his passion for cooking to open a restaurant honoring the food he loves from back home.
“I really want to open a fine–dining West African restaurant chain; that’s my dream,” he says.
Based on his cooking background, I ask him what his experience has been with dining hall food. He mentions how every time he goes to the dining hall, no matter how hungry he is, he can never finish his food.
“It’s not terrible, but there’s something missing—I can’t do it,” he laughs. “The premium swipes at New College House are really good though.”