Houston has earned a reputation for being one of the most diverse cities in the country: Around 1.7 million immigrants call Space City home. It is intricately connected to the African diaspora, being just miles away from the origin of the Juneteenth holiday, which is the day that enslaved people in Texas finally learned they were free; it’s also long been a haven for the largest Nigerian community in the U.S. But despite Houston’s nickname being “Baby Lagos,” there’s not one big celebration or event for Nigerian Independence Day that members of the Nigerian community can gather for, according to Ope Amosu, the owner of West African fast-casual restaurant ChòpnBlọk.
In 2023, that will change. Leading up to Nigerian Independence Day, an annual celebration of the West African country’s succession from British rule on October 1, 1960, Amoso will host what could be one the largest celebrations of the African Diaspora in the country.
Chopd & Stewd — the name a play on the iconic Houston-born Chopped and Screwed music genre while also paying homage to the ChòpnBlọk brand, and stew, a popular West African dish — will invite Houston residents and visitors to Downtown’s Post Houston for a celebration of West African diaspora and its cuisine on September 30. Adhering to its tagline “Eats, Speaks, Trade, and Beats,” Chopd & Stewd will offer a full day’s worth of cultural immersion and education, with scheduled speakers, vibrant music, wellness programming, dining, and more.
The on-site culinary village, hosted atop the Post Skylawn’s rooftop park, will offer music, cocktails, and a stacked lineup of chefs, including Houston’s own Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ and Gatlin’s Fins and Features, Courtney Lindsay of Mo’ Betta Brews and Houston Sauce Co., Keisha Griggs of Kuji Kitchen, plus Brooklyn Suya, an African restaurant that hails from New York City. The ChòpnBlọk Nation Evening Brunch, a VIP event, will be a showcase of West African foodways. Featured culinary talent includes Top Chef finalist Eric Adjepong, Tolu Eros of Los Angeles Nigerian pop-up restaurant Ile Eros, plus James Beard Award nominees, including Serigne Mbaye of Dakar in New Orleans and Mawa McQueen of Mawa McQueen in Mawa’s Kitchen in Aspen, Colorado.
Òrêké Market, the on-site artisan fare, will feature dozens of vendors, including Ayo Foods, the first West African frozen food brand in the country. The “Speaks” portion of the event will feature words from celebrities like comedian and actress Yvonne Orji of HBO’s Insecure, WNBA All-Stars and sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogqumike, music producer Lanell Grant, and Nigerian Olympia Seun Adigun, in addition to workshops and group sessions led by creatives. The Freedmen’s Town Conservancy, the local nonprofit that protects and preserves the history of Houston’s historic Freedmen’s Town, will host Porch Talks, which showcases narratives related to culture preservation and interconnected histories.
Music will be a major component. Visitors can experience an AfroVibes yoga session with Jaz Porter — think “yoga and [artist] Tems together,” Amosu says — plus an AfroBeats dance-off led by Ilekan Athletics’ Afrobeats instructors, and the culminating Sounds of the Motherland event, a musical countdown to Nigerian Independence Day with live sets by DJs Big Reeks and Tay Powers on Post’s rooftop.
Amosu says he expects upward of 8,000 people on Saturday, including regular visitors of Post Houston. The ticketed event will include four types of passes, starting at $45 for all access, which includes the VIP brunch, priced at $395. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Plant it Forward and Birthright Africa.
Chopd & Stewd builds on Amosu’s dream for ChòpnBlọk, which was founded originally as a pop-up in 2018, before he opened the permanent location in Post Houston in November 2021. A former corporate sales executive in the oil and gas industry, Amosu, who is Nigerian, says he had long appreciated and admired the power of cooking, and holds fond memories of his family “fellowshipping” over food. During his time on the East Coast, he was inspired by the booming fast-casual movement, which celebrated various cuisines, and also food halls, which offered a taste of flavors from different cultures. “It intrigued me, like why don’t we have one of these that represents where I came from?” he says. “I was tired of going to these cultural places that were a reflection of the city, but I couldn’t completely self-identify.”
In 2017, he began forming the idea for ChòpnBlọk. “I wanted to own and share our narrative, and when I was thinking about the best way to get that message across and how would people be receptive, it circled back to food,” says Amosu. But he wanted to go beyond Nigerian cuisine, showcasing the breadth of West African culture and cuisine without borders.
“Usually, we just lean back on the nationality of the owner … but I want to tell the story of the diaspora — the entire diaspora,” he says.
Post Houston’s international food hall, commonly called Post Market, was a perfect opportunity. Today, ChòpnBlọk sits near the front entrance, giving visitors a chance to come into contact with West African cuisine in a way that they may not have before, Amosu says. The shop, designed by Zainob Amao, owner of creative consultant company Amao, feels more like a living room, with warm and welcoming decor, a spread of food-related books, vibey music by West African artists, and samples offered to passersby. “It’s our initial introduction,” says Amosu.
A second location — a full restaurant intended to be the flagship outpost — is slated to open in Houston in the first half of 2024, but a festival or block party like that of Chopd & Stewd, was always a part of his plan of connecting more people to the diaspora, Amosu says. “When I think of ChòpnBlọk, we interact with people on a daily basis, and it’s important that we’re meeting people where they are,” he says.
“I always say, ‘one time for the city, two times for the culture.’ We’re going heavy on the culture to show out for our city and show the world Houston is the location to be and a place where the diaspora to reconnect,” Amosu says.