There isn’t much information available about Trap Kitchen, but that doesn’t mean it’s a secret.
“How did you hear about this place?” I ask a college student waiting to collect her order. She laughs. “Everyone knows about it. If you’re on social media, you know.”
The takeaway and catering business is run out of a flat in South London, and has built a cult following on Instagram, thanks to the photos it posts of decadent takeout boxes filled with lobster, waffles, mac ‘n’ cheese, and fried chicken. Customers see what the kitchen is offering from the upload that day, call in their order using the number in the bio, and receive a message confirming the address of the Camberwell housing estate to come and collect the food from.
But outside of the Instagram bubble, there is barely a trace of Trap Kitchen. Run with the sort of “if you know, you know” ethos that turns customers into disciples, digging for further information is made all the more difficult by the founder’s dedication to remaining firmly behind the scenes. Weeks pass with my Instagram comments, emails, texts, and calls going unanswered. When we finally speak, he tentatively picks up the call and tells me that his name is Prince Owusu, but he goes by Shakka.
“Trap Kitchen started with just me alone,” Shakka says over the phone. His phone is at the heart of the business, so naturally it is the only way to connect with the 27-year-old entrepreneur.
“In the beginning, I used to just cook everything myself and also deliver to the customers, but as our customer base started growing, I got help from some young lads in my local area who would see loads of people coming to the block. You should swing by,” he continues. “It will be a bit of surprise though, it won’t be what you expect.”
I take Shakka up on his idea and visit the Trap Kitchen base shortly after our phone call. A hand-full of customers sit patiently on a wall near the flat holding numbered tickets, while others wait in their cars on the tree-lined street. It’s quiet, apart from the music that escapes briefly when windows are rolled down and Shakka’s assistants pass boxes of hot food into cars and collect their cash.
“People come from all over, like Birmingham and Hertfordshire, once they see the menu go up online. Loads of students come in groups and wait in their cars before going back,” says Khaled, 18, who handles customer service at Trap Kitchen on most days, along with a few friends. The kitchen operates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with the latter being their busiest day.
South London's Trap Kitchen is not to be confused with the LA-based food delivery service that serves meals cooked by ex-Crip gang members.
“It's not connected to them at all. They messaged me telling me that I need to change my name. They were basically just trying to run game on me. They wanted the name because they wanted to change their account name,” Shakka explains, adding that the American enterprise doesn’t have a monopoly on the term because it is so widely used. “The ‘Trap Kitchen’ isn't exclusive to anybody, people have been saying ‘Trap Kitchen’ from long time. ‘To Trap’ is to sell drugs and people used to cook [drugs] in a kitchen. Rappers talk about trapping all the time.”
But there’s nothing underhand about Shakka’s Trap Kitchen—save for the occasional customers who aren’t keen to speak or have their photos taken. “They’re hood guys,” Khaled explains, suggesting I won’t get much information from them.
Shakka has never had a job until now, he tells me. He’s just following his instincts. I am struck by the entrepreneurial spirit of it all: the teenagers on the road outside helping to track customer waiting times via a raffle ticket system and others who send updates to the kitchen. They also make and sell their own punch.
Trap Kitchen’s success is down to Shakka’s ability to capitalise on the power of social media.
“One time I made food, posted it, and a female messaged me saying she wanted to buy it. I didn't really take her seriously but she asked me, ‘How much?' So I said £15. Then she asked for my address, so I gave it to her and she actually turned up and paid for the food. Literally, that's how it started,” he explains. “I just posted more and more food and loads of people kept commenting saying it looked nice. Then a cousin of mine said I should take it seriously so I set up my Instagram.”
The account has since amassed a following of 43.9k followers.
“Somebody said to me yesterday that what Trap Kitchen has done, it hasn't created customers it has created fans,” says Shakka. “A customer will come to your business and buy and think nothing of it but a fan will come and then take your product and spread the news and tell everybody about it.”
A key driver of this success is the enthusiasm Trap Kitchen customers show in sharing photos of their meals to friends online.
“Our customers feel like they're in the know and then when they come, before they even tuck into the food, they take a picture of it,” says Shakka. “A lot of customers tell me that for the time that their post is up then their Instagram will be going crazy and people will be asking, ‘Where did you get that from? That looks so nice.’ They then feel like they are the plug, they're connecting people to something their friends know nothing about. It kind of makes them cool.”
Shakka makes most of his business decisions with this online audience in mind, including the rotating menu, which he composes by looking back at photos of past meals that sold well and received a high number of “likes.” Most dishes centre around chicken—fried or grilled, sometimes jerked—or grilled seafood, often lobster. (Customers can also order a “combo meal” which includes both proteins.) This is served with a ridiculously saucy and cheesy pasta, rice, or chips. To top it off, the box usually includes a waffle for dessert. It’s a busy-looking meal but Shakka is careful about his presentation.
“Everything is about how things look and if it looks bland, a lot of people aren't really going to take to it. With what I've been able to create, there's a lot of colour in it. There's a lot going on. If you can visualise it sometimes you feel like you can taste it.”
Shakka’s cooking style has earned him some famous fans, the most devoted of which is Victoria’s Secret model Leomie Anderson.
“I met Leomie and we became friends. Leomie, whenever she's in the country, she comes like twice a week,” he says casually. “She introduced me to Jourdan [Dunn]. Stormzy wants to pop down but his album has kept him a bit too busy. We've got some of the Section Boyz following us and Santan Dave. Winnie Harlow too. Not all of them have come to the kitchen but some of them have.”
He also catered for A$AP Rocky's birthday in London last month—a high accolade by any chef’s standards. But for Shakka, it’s all in a day's work.
“It is what it is. It sells itself. If you can see the amount of work that gets put in after a while, it's not really as exciting,” he laughs. It appears that the hectic nature of running a one-man food empire means that he rarely stops to reflect on his success.
Trap Kitchen is clearly thriving, but not everyone is keen on the local notoriety. On one of my visits, a young couple dressed as if they have just returned from work walk into the block behind the gathering of Trap Kitchen customers and look slightly bemused. Another time, a flustered man asks one of the waiting customers whether someone can guard his parking space.
“People have been complaining. They just don't know how long its for. I get a lot of support but there are some people who just don't really know what it’s about,” says Shakka. It would be ignorant to overlook the racial tensions that underpin these comments, but he seems laid back about it all.
“Some people get afraid when they leave their house and there’s so many people out on the streets. When they see too many black people in the same area, neighbours of a different race are just afraid.”
Young black men trading unidentified boxes into blacked out vehicles in exchange for cash—it didn’t take long for police to become anxious.
“We've had police come and not for any trouble. Just to sit out there. They just sit out there and do nothing. But that isn't abnormal for the black community. There is always police hanging around and seeing if we're causing trouble.”
Shakka is currently working on moving Trap Kitchen operations to another location and strategizing the next phase of the business.
“We’ve been looking for places to move. I think the concept, selling it out of the block, has benefitted me more but we have some potential investors. We're not gonna be here forever,” he reveals.
The relatability of hearty food cooked by an entrepreneurial out of his flat has underpinned the rise of Trap Kitchen. And, having just completed a pop-up in Manchester for potential investors, Shakka is ready to scale his kitchen up from the block to a full-blown restaurant. The secret is definitely out.