Bukola Okin and her husband, Oscar, did not have any restaurant experience before taking the plunge and opening Rhapsody’s Restaurant — amid the pandemic nonetheless.
It was a love of cooking that led the Okins to offer a place in northwest Fresno that serves, as their slogan says, “Southern comfort cuisine with Soul.”
Rhapsody’s Restaurant (3209 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 105, Fresno, between Marty and Marks avenues) opened in September 2020. The original goal was to include live music, but the space was too small. They settled on making comfort food only.
“It was hard, but in a good way and in a bad way. In a good way, in the sense that it’s the first restaurant and we’re able to (experience) the do’s and don’ts and our ups and downs, and how to relate to our customers. But in a bad way, because everybody is isolated, trying not to come out and dine. We planned, so (take out) is fine,” Bukola said.
Neither of the Okins, who are Nigerian immigrants, had a background in the restaurant industry. Bukola still works as a technician in a hospital. Oscar held a variety of non-restaurant jobs. A brother helps as a silent partner.
“I love cooking, I love to learn, and I don’t even know it’s going to be as big as this. But, we haven’t gotten to where we’re going to go,” Bukola said.
While both cook and manager of the restaurant, Bukola credits her husband for delivering excellent customer service.
“He knows all the customers that come in. He always remembers their names. And that makes people feel happy and welcome,” Bukola said.
Watch: Rhapsody’s Features Fish, Chicken, Gumbo & More
The Food: A Focus on Fried Specials
Fried chicken and fish are regulars on the menu. A three-piece fried chicken or fried fish plate — with two sides and cornbread — is $14.95. Combo plates with chicken, fish, and shrimp are also available.
Waffles and chicken are on the menu, too, ranging from $15.95 to $17.50.
“We have like shrimp and grits from the southern style. We have oxtail over rice and we have ribs on weekend. We have so many things that people can enjoy,” Bukola said.
Rhapsody’s has daily specials with a Louisiana flare. The oxtail over rice is served on Wednesdays and Sundays for $22.95. Other daily specials include jerk chicken over Jamaican rice ($17.95, Thursdays); gumbo ($16.95-$22.95, Fridays); ribs and other barbecue items on the weekend (prices vary).
“I have a chef and a cook and they’re from Louisiana,” Bukola said. “I was able to learn so fast because I love cooking. I cook all the time.”
Could regional dishes from Bukola’s Nigerian homeland be on the menu in the future?
“Maybe,” she said with a smile.
Inspired by Chef Paul
Bukola said another well-known soul food restaurant in Fresno inspired her — Chef Paul’s Café in Chinatown.
“I give credit to Chef Paul (Pearson) because he’s been into this business for a while and also Doll’s Kitchen,” Bukola said. “Soul food is not easy because it’s not like fast food. It is home cooked food that you have to make fresh.”
The Okins are looking at a second restaurant, hopefully in a bigger location in Fresno to carry out the dream of live music.