(HOUSTON)- In the heart of Houston, amid the urban sprawl, emerges a bustling boulevard named Bissonnet Street—a vibrant enclave known as Little Lagos. This cultural crossroads weaves the rich threads of Nigeria into the city’s fabric, telling a story of growth, entrepreneurship, and a dynamic community. “It’s not just a street; it’s a cultural crossroads,” says Tolu Oresusi, a Nigerian-American judge at Texas Municipal Court in Houston. “Little Lagos is where our community’s heartbeat resonates, pulsating with the warmth and vibrancy of Nigeria.”
“With a population of about 150,000 Nigerian Americans, the Greater Houston area boasts the largest Nigerian expatriate population in the United States, according to the Houston Chronicle. Many Nigerians are drawn to Houston’s warm climate and the ease of establishing businesses, The city’s robust economy, coupled with its renowned institutions, has become a magnet for individuals and families seeking new opportunities, according to the New York Times.
One such individual is Bola Ogunjimi, 66, originating from Osun State. “I came to Houston for a better opportunity, driven by a deep love for both Nigerian cuisine and the vibrant cultural atmosphere,” says Ogunjimi. In 2002, he founded Fingerlicking, a Bissonnet Street culinary haven with the authentic flavors of Nigeria. The restaurant’s popular dish, pounded yam with Egusi soup, has become a local favorite.
Entrepreneurship is a dynamic force propelling the Nigerian community’s ascent in Houston. Dr. Raymond Sowemimo, the president of the Nigerian Diaspora Organization Houston chapter, mentions, “Bissonnet Street is a convergence of dreams and aspirations.” Famous establishments like Cafe Abuja, along with supermarkets like South Farmers Market and Wazobia, offer not only goods and services but also serve as cultural hubs.
However, amid celebrating cultural vibrancy and economic success, Nigerian businesses on Bissonnet Street face their share of challenges. Rising costs of operation, fierce competition, and, at times, cultural misunderstandings pose hurdles for entrepreneurs striving to maintain the authenticity and uniqueness of their offerings. Bola Ogunjimi, reflecting on these challenges, says, “Rising rent prices and navigating through bureaucratic processes have become significant challenges.”
Importantly, sourcing popular Nigerian herbs and spices, such as Uzzia, Suya pepper, and Yaji, directly from Nigeria is often easier and less expensive than obtaining them within the U.S. This cost-effective approach provides these businesses with a competitive edge, allowing them to preserve the authenticity of their offerings. To help alleviate some of these economic challenges, during a trade trip to West Africa on July 17, 2023, Mayor Sylvester Turner asked officials in Nigeria to help create a new direct flight to the country from Houston. A direct flight would not only enhance cultural exchange but also streamline the import of Nigerian goods for businesses on the street.
A direct flight to Nigeria would mean more than just convenience; it would be a bridge connecting the businesses on Bissonnet Street directly to the heart of Nigeria. Entrepreneurs, like Ogunjimi, envision a more accessible route for bringing authentic Nigerian products to their establishments. It would mean fresher ingredients, more diverse merchandise, and an even richer experience for patrons eager to savor the true essence of Nigeria. “A direct flight is like opening the door to endless possibilities for our businesses here on Bissonnet Street,” he says.