With a nickname like The Billionaire Chef, it is hard to imagine that Tolu Eros didn’t always have his dreams set on the kitchen. Even now with international pop-ups under his belt and an intimate tasting room and kitchen that introduces Nigeria to L.A, Eros admits his journey was an organic one.
Growing up in both Benin City and Lagos, Nigeria, Eros attended the University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom to pursue an international business management degree. Upon graduation in 2009, Eros’ mother asked him to move back home to help her open a restaurant in Nigeria. He initially agreed to tend to the operational side of the business, vowing to stay for just a few months. It was not before long that Eros found himself running day-to-day operations at the ripe age of 21. And just like that, he was hooked.
“It was only supposed to be a three month trip. It ended up being the rest of my life,” he says.
From there, the self-taught chef expanded to French patisserie concept, The Cookie Jar, a catering service, and another restaurant in Nigeria, ILÉ EROS, which gained him the eye of billionaire clients, and subsequently the moniker, “The Billionaire Chef.”
In 2017, Eros got the travel bug and began touring the world, making stops in Ibiza, Paris, and London. Using cooking to pave the way, he’d host a large dinner in each location, asking his friends to pitch in for ingredients and to help fund travel costs. When he hosted a dinner in Los Angeles with potential clients in 2019, he knew that this could be a business opportunity.
“I enjoyed the pressure—the pressure to do more to step up my game. I wanted to do it more,” he says.
Just as he was gaining momentum, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world. While he was stuck at home, Eros used the shutdown to plan and structure his business. As soon as travel bans were lifted, Eros set out abroad once more, ultimately looking for a place to bring his pop-up home—Los Angeles is where he found it.
“I just love the city, the energy, the people, as crazy as they may be. I knew that it was going to be the most challenging of any of the cities to be successful. And for me, if I can challenge myself here, it’s done,” he says.
In April of 2022, Eros opened ILÉ, a communal kitchen and work space with a simple goal: to create West African culinary experiences using food as a medium.
“I wanted to be able to relive some of my favorite memories of growing up which were around a dining table with friends and family. It was important for me to have one big dining table where people could come together to sit down, have conversations, taste good food, and learn about culture,” he says.
And to better guarantee a successful opening, Eros turned to Tock to secure reservations. “Reservations are the lifeblood of our private dining room experience. We used Tock for our grand opening in May 2022, and it helped to get us on our way to acquire clients, post our family and friends soft opening in April,” he says.
Now at ILÉ, Eros expertly weaves a mixture of food and storytelling, bringing a slice of Nigerian culture to Los Angeles. On the plate, Eros reimagines West African cuisine with a modern twist, from sweet potato chips with dots of truffle aïoli to jollof rice, served out of a smoking cauldron. Keeping it authentic, Eros sources ingredients from his native land, building trade with local suppliers for suya spice blends and dried hibiscus flowers.
While Eros connects with his diners nightly through food, storytelling, and music, Eros relies on Tock’s features, including guest notes and tags, to cater to guests before they even walk in the door.
“We use guest tags and notes to engage prior to dinner service. [We] can see if they have visited us before, and it helps us maintain a bespoke service where we can greet people by name,” he says.
Additionally, Eros uses Tock’s data collecting features to engage via email, furthering the conversation with his guests long after the last bite.
“I think the strongest thing for Tock is the ownership of your data. That is a game changer. When we look at the fact that we don’t have access to those contacts from other platforms, people come in and that’s it—we can’t build a relationship with them. For us, data ownership is the number one thing that stands out.”
Looking toward the future, Eros hopes to continue sharing the wonderful diversity that is Nigerian food.
“Americans need to understand that there’s more to Nigerian food than jollof rice, egusi, and fufu,” he says. “Nigerian food is full of flavor, it is definitely going to be a flavor punch. Come prepared for a robust palate fill.”