As one of the founders of Hartford based Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, Onyeka Obiocha describes their efforts as “this idea and platform that allows you to explore the possibilities to create collective culture.”
Onyeka, or Ony as many in Hartford know him, was born and raised in Windsor, Connecticut and he attributes a lot of his success to growing up in the area’s diverse community. With parents and older sisters born in Nigeria, he says he is “just a culmination of good people, great family, and just an amazing place and opportunity as being a first generation person.”
As a first iteration, Breakfast Lunch & Dinner started when Ony and his business partners Jeff, Quenton, and Josh (who also happened to be roommates at the time) got together and started throwing unique parties downtown. In doing this, they could bring a lot of young people to their events “in really phenomenal ways.” They kept exploring and asking, “How do you really get young people who live in the Greater Hartford area and primarily Hartford, to come downtown and enjoy the city in a unique way?”
Over the years, they have learned through their efforts that Breakfast Lunch & Dinner is more than just parties; it’s a unique opportunity to really leverage human resources, financial resources and all of the assets that are here in the city to realize a Hartford that works for the people who live here. “What are the ways that we can activate communities, activate individuals, and activate buildings in a way that hasn’t been done in traditional ways, or in a way that most importantly, can bring some type of vibrancy and inclusivity to Hartford,” asks Ony.
Among many, one notable project by Breakfast Lunch & Dinner you may know about (and have hopefully attended!) is KNOW GOOD Market; an open-air food market held from March to October. They began the project after Jeff and Ony spent time in South Africa, where they were inspired by an outdoor food market called the Old Biscuit Mill; “it was such a vibrant and cool way to bring Cape Town together.” So the Breakfast Lunch & Dinner team got together to look at ways to “build something that can work in Hartford, but would be considered dope anywhere” says Ony. “And that’s what we always strive to do. We never want to say, OK this is good for Hartford. No, this can be great anywhere, but we chose to put it in Hartford because Hartford is such a special place to us.”
The KNOW GOOD Market started three years ago “with really just the homies coming together.” It was this culmination of building community and lowering the barriers for food entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs to be selling their goods and promoting their brands. Fast forward to last year when they hosted a total of eight markets and in just 24 hours, their vendors sold over $150,000 worth of food and goods.
“Breakfast Lunch & Dinner is not here to make 100 million dollars, we would rather last for 100 years, and in doing that we have to come at the work a little differently to make sure we are hitting some core issues. One of my mentors said that the only problems worth solving are the problems that you know you cannot solve within your lifetime,” says Ony.
Ony describes the Hartford community as “beauty and love in its purest form,” and feels that Hartford is unique in that you’re surrounded by a group of people who really care for and support each other. “The community just wants to be involved. When I think of Hartford, I think of wholeness… I really feel like I can be my whole self, as complex, or happy and sad as that can be,” shares Ony. “The Hartford community has always been home to me, and no matter where I go, it will continue to be home.”