Self-assurance. It is a character trait that is important especially when making tough decisions, such as risking a stable job to pursue entrepreneurship. Meet Tokunbo Oladipo, owner of the popular, Houston-based restaurant 3Tee Shawarma. Tokunbo is a walking testament that academic pursuits are a form of stability, but making the choice of “having confidence and never settling” can transform anyone–even a migrant–to the next level.
Here are some life pointers from Tokunbo Oladipo, that can help you stay motivated while discovering your confidence.
1. Know your worth
Born and raised in Zaria, Nigeria, Tokunbo grew up seeing her widowed mother go to great lengths to make sure Tokunbo and her sisters were well taken care of.
“Growing up my life was structured, my mom had everything set in certain ways.” Utilizing this structure, Tokunbo decided at the age of thirteen to sell ice to business owners that would feed students during the Ramadan season. This was her first shot at the life of an entrepreneur.
Initially, Tokunbo dreamed of becoming an artist, but she was met with resistance.
“Back then, you know, typical African parents will say, ‘What will you achieve being a female artist?’,” she says. “There is really no encouragement for people to enter that field [of fine arts]. People would say, who will ever marry an artist? What will you do for money, don’t you see people selling their art on the road?”
Eventually, Tokunbo graduated university with a degree in sociology, also with a focus on criminology.
“I settled,” Tokunbo recalls, “but grew to love [my degree choice], especially the criminology aspect which later helped me with my job at Chase.”
However, taking to heart her mothers words that “business has always been in [her] blood,” Tokunbo expressed that “deep down [she] always wanted to be fulfilled, and happy,” rather than listening to the nay-sayers.
“Knowing your worth, no matter what [the community] says,you must listen to yourself to make the difference.” This self awareness helped Tokunbo to reach new goals when she moved to Texas at a young age.
Tokunbo has proven that hard work is nothing unless you believe in yourself.
2. Creating a path that’s yours
After graduating from college, the owner of 3Tee Shawarma moved to Houston from Zaria, with encouragement from her mother. “You have the opportunity to be [in America] so just go,” Tokunbo remembers her mother telling her. So taking a leap of faith, Tokunbo landed in Houston and began working small jobs.
“When I moved to the USA, my mind said to be happy.” But she observed many immigrants from Nigeria just give up on chasing their dreams.
“When people come here from Nigeria, their first idea is to go into [medicine]” rather than creating a path they would truly love. “Everyone was hitting me left right and center, going into the medical field.”
Tokunbo explained how a relative paid for her CNA class, “It wasn’t my money, she took her $300 without my approval and paid for the class. My decision might have been rude, but I had to decline the offer. I told [the person] that I would even pay her back.”
With such tenacity, Tokunbo continued to believe in her mantra, “I’m going to do me and be grateful to God.”
Instead of following an easier career path, Tokunbo landed jobs ranging from telemarketing to Chase Bank’s Anti-Money Laundering department. “All of these jobs gave me experience that helped me manage my business 3Tee.” She explains how after creating her own path, the nine to five jobs were only “satisfying to pay the bills.”
3. Find your ah-ha moment!
At some point, Tokunbo realized that deep down inside, she truly loved cooking. “I was still working at Chase but I knew I wanted to start a business. I didn’t start my business actually with shawarma, I started my business with peppe soup,” she continued. “Whenever people would have a babyshower or a party they would ask, “TeeKay, did you bring peppe soup. That’s when I was like, wait a minute, I better put a price tag on this.”
This stream of popularity in the community boosted Tokunbo’s confidence and self-assurance even more, but the ah-ha moment for her business was still to come.
“Then one day me and my husband were just at home, and we were craving shawarma. Come to think of it, I realized, I have never had shawarmas in Houston that I liked. It doesn't have that Nigerian taste that I want. That is when I went into the kitchen and had my friends and my husband taste [the shawarma] I made and they loved it.”
From there 3Tee Shawarma would be born!
“We started testing different recipes until we discovered the ones that we liked.” Soon after a friend of the family posted a picture of the shawarma on social media and the rest is history.
“At that point I was still working at Chase, but I started selling shawarma, not to individual people but you had to order a lot, because it has to be cost effective,” she continued, “I went from making shawarmas every other weekend to making shawarmas everyday, clients kept coming.”
After years of working with Chase, the mother of three was at a bridge. That bridge was trying to “fulfil orders, and answer phone calls while at work, picking up the kids and making shawarmas by four.”
At that moment Tokunbo knew she was no longer fit to continue her on-the-clock career. “I had been battling with the fact that I want to quit my job,” she remembers. “One day we got into the office and they said unfortunately, my department in Houston was going to shut down. That our jobs are going away. Honestly, I was excited.”
This sudden change was exactly the opportunity Tokunbo needed to focus fully on her lucrative shawarma business, 3Tee. “My mindset is that it is never really about the money, as long as you're comfortable.”
4. Manifest your vision
Tokunbo’s advice for making sure your dream business or goals are achieved is to have a support system; support for which she credits her husband, sisters, mother and children. “For the person stepping out there, you’re going to go a long way if you do have the right support.”
The next step in seeing her dreams manifest was when Tokunbo decided to open a physical location for her shawarma shop. “In 2017, we got that spot, it was just an empty space. We got a contractor and we paid him with the money we had saved selling the shawarma from our house, and actually, he squandered everything.” But her support system, especially her husband, helped to build their new shop from scratch.
Three years later, two stores, and many loyal customers and instagram followers later, 3Tee Shawarma has become a Houston staple not only for Africans but everyone in the community.
All it took was for someone to have the confidence to create their own path and a great support system–and that someone is Tokunbo Oladipo.
5. So what’s next? Keep it going.
Tokunbo was able to manifest her success by merging her confidence with her life experiences. From hustling at a young age and being discouraged from pursuing her dream of studying fine arts, Tokunbo started off her business with a small $100 panini press.
“Cooking is another form of art. Look at the people in Nigeria that sell food on the side of the road. They don't just plaster your food on a plate, they present it neatly, it is a form of art.” She recalls, “My daughter says, ‘Mommy I want to work in a restaurant,’ and I have the confidence to tell her, you’re going to own the restaurant.”
She concludes her advice with this statement.
“Before making the move, be confident enough to think it through, always weigh your options...every step of the way there is a lesson that God gives you to prepare for today. Make sure this is the business you want to do, if not, there will be low moments, what do you do when you burn so much energy? The only thing that will keep you going is [your confidence] and the love for what you do. America is the land of opportunity, great opportunities but it starts with you believing in yourself, having a vision and being positive.”
Her plans for 3Tee are to continue to open more stores. “We will open [more stores] in Texas and out of state. Just making sure we get a process in place to have all those businesses work independently.
If you want to follow Tokunbo on her journey and see some tasty shawarma along the way, follow 3Tee Shawarma on Facebook and Instagram @3TeeShawarma.
And if you want to taste the shawarma for yourself (which we highly recommend), visit 3Tee Shawarma at her two Houston locations:
- 13974 Westheimer Road, Houston TX 77077-5359
- 8200 Wilcrest Dr (Suite 2) Houston TX 77072
Tokunbo offers a free shawarma on Thursdays exclusively for MAJORITY members. And for a limited time only! Place your order via the 3Tee Shawarma app, use your MAJORITY card, put "Majority" in the note section, show your card to the customer service representative at 3Tee Shawarma and get a free cup of zobo or Chapman with your order!
Learn more on our discount page. Not a member? Sign up to save at 3Tee Shawarma and plenty of other local restaurants with the MAJORITY Visa® Debit Card!