If you type this into Google: ‘Kwam 1 drinking garri’, you will find an amateur video of the king of fuji music, at a ritzy wedding party, eating garri with fried fish.
Now, you ask, why is this news? Not like the clip is a sneaky recording via a hidden camera. It was the man himself, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall I (aka KWAM 1) who’d posted the video to his Instagram. His caption for it was even quite effusive.
“Very proud of the creative entrepreneurs across [the] board” KWAM 1 wrote. “Imagine coming to a party and seeing garri Ijebu and eja dindin [fried fish] being served as part of the menu. I quickly jumped at it to have a feel of my best food ever.”
Once the clip went online in January 2019, it quickly took off, with hundreds of likes and views. It was reposted to several other Instagram accounts and profusely blogged about.
Again, it caught fire, not because the man—billionaire, world famous, connected to the high and mighty—shouldn’t be seen with garri near his mouth. The video went viral because garri, long maligned as the last-resort chow of the broke and destitute, had received such a status lift that it was now fine to have it at a society wedding.
And who is to blame for this new audacity? Those “creative entrepreneurs,” of course, chief of whom happens to be Ifedayo Apoeso.
If this man’s name rings no bell to you, that’s okay. You probably are more familiar with his other monikers. Online, he is known as Corporate Garri or The Garri Guy, founder of The Garri Place.
He is that person who has led the movement to sexy up the “food of the masses”. He’s packed it in transparent travel cups. Paired it with sugar, milk, and little bites of fried fish, fried turkey, or roast nuts. He’s put a catchy logo on that pack of his. And he’s set Instagram on fire.
These days, The Garri Guy’s timeline is a modish album of the various unlikely places and moments where the young and old flaunt their new affinity to his garri. From office TGIFs and conferences to birthday parties of socialites and trade exhibitions, it’s now a thing to have The Garri Place on the stand.
But before the gushing endorsement from the fuji maestro, a staccato of branding upgrades had been hitting the modest garri. It used to be that you could only find the thing in open markets, measured for sale with repurposed paint buckets. Thanks to handy, see-through bags, however, supermarkets soon began to carry it on their shelves, too. You might even recall that, in 2014 the Afrobeats star D’banj made headlines when he presented his own Koko Garri, pitching the lowly food item the same way you might try to sell, say, a brand of cornflakes.
Unlike D’banj, however, Mr Apoeso didn’t start selling garri to capitalise on a well-known name; he has only become famous because he sold garri in a certain way.
The story of how he got to this point is a bit of a long story but the short version is that between 2010 and 2012, while studying at the Osun State University, Apoeso sourced and sold good quality garri to friends.
He said he did it “just for fun.” Then, after completing his degree in computer science in 2013, a friend asked why he’d stopped the business. This friend, as Apoeso recalled, “told me he loved the way I went about it.”
Inspired, and because he had nothing else going on, he went back to the garri trade. But rather than stick to that one thing, he thought, why not expand? So, he created 0965foods, a foodstuff delivery service. “To my utmost surprise,” said Apoeso, “my clients kept calling me to supply more garri than other foodstuffs, so I decided to carve a niche around garri.”
The way he’s gone about it, as that friend had noticed, appears to have made all the difference. There may indeed be other young people—some of them college graduates—who also deal in garri, but none has made such a hit of it as The Garri Guy has.
Naturally, garri is cheap to make—buy or cultivate cassava, peel it, grind it, pour the watery pulp in woven nylon sacks, tie the bags and place under a presser to wring out the water, let what’s left rest under that wringer for a day or two to further dry and ferment, take it out and dry-fry in an iron pot. The result is the crisp, sour grains that’s popular from Lagos to Lassa. Some believe the best kind of garri is made in Ijebuland, southwest of Nigeria.
You could make a garri meal by cooking it in hot water (to make what the Yoruba call eba) and eat it with any option of soups or stews. Or you could pour it in cold water and eat with those tasty accompaniments that Corporate Garri bundles it with; consume it fast if you want it crunchy, go slowly if you want it soft.
Garri is such a mainstay of Nigerian dining tablesthat a study by Henan Jinrui Food Engineering Company shows that the national yearly demand for it is as high as 1,000,000 tonnes. Disappointingly, producers are only able to fill a quarter of that need.
So, depending on these forces of demand and supply, as well the occasional inflation, the price of garri sometimes becomes backbreakingly high for the lower class—as it was in 2020. Conclusion: the market remains open for people like The Garri Guy.
Was Garri ever cool, though? No. It was the thing to which students returned in the final weeks of the semester, after the good stuff—the biscuits, noodles, and rice—had been exhausted, when the cash had been spent, too. Now, surprise-surprise, garri-at-a-party is what the cool kids are gleefully tweeting about.
He’s said he’s motivated by “originality, passion, and [a belief in] God.” Failure is only a speedbump on the road to high achievement, he added. “There is no gain without pain, everybody loves cake but they have forgotten so quick it was subjected to severe heat before it came out beautiful. Look at the prize ahead, not the obstacle.”
That said, if you compare garri to other business ventures that currently catch the fancy of millennials and Gen Z, garri still isn’t that trendy. Place running an on-demand garri business beside being a social media consultant, app developer, photographer, or music producer and any of the other choices would trump garri. Heck, how do you even scale such an enterprise, they might ask. How do you bring tech into it?
Good questions, actually. But to steadily observe The Garri Guy is to see that he’s been figuring out the answers and consistently growing. For now, perhaps he can revel in his current personal achievement, which is that he’s helped to make a previously snubbed part of the culture, the latest talk of the town.
A version of this story appears in The Guardian (Nigeria) of January 2, 2021.