Entrepreneur and engineer Ono Ikanone, 33, is no stranger to hospitality. A native of Lagos, Nigeria, Ikanone moved to St. Louis with his parents when he was 14. His family had a tradition of sending their eldest children to college in the US. Luckily, he was able to move to the States a little earlier. However, no matter where he went, he always made sure to spread a little Nigerian culture along the way. 

Now, Ikanone’s new restaurant Levels Nigerian Cuisine is making a major impact on St. Louis. With a unique, spice-forward menu, Levels is defining the standard for African cuisine in the Midwest. 

“Levels Nigerian Cuisine was another way for me to expose African-Americans and St. Louis to Nigerian culture in my own way,” Ikanone said. 

With a dynamic team and incredible family supporting his cause, Ikanone has curated an opulent, inclusive space in the heart of St. Louis. The restaurant opened its doors on July 1 to a host of supporters including the city’s first African-American mayor Tishaura Jones. 

Levels Nigerian Cuisine
Photo credit: Phillip Ellington Media

A Culinary Experience From St. Louis To Lagos

The menu at Levels includes a slew of aromatic, flavorful dishes; bursting with spice and a familiar essence. Familiarity was important to Ikanone when creating the menu to ensure guests were confident when selecting items. Dishes like goat pepper soup and suya burgers have become neighborhood favorites. 

Ikanone’s past experience in event promotion and lounge ownership laid the foundation to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. The merger of magnificent culinary delicacies and vibrant decor teleports guests from St. Louis to Lagos. 

“I’ve been spreading the culture and educating people on what Nigeria is like and what we are like as a people,” he said. “Now Levels is helping me do that on a larger scale.”

A creative spin on authentic, traditional Nigerian cuisine, Levels is the result of years of hard work, education, and lessons. A hub for Nigerian culture, Ikanone believes Levels will cultivate engagement that bridges the separation between Africans and African-Americans. He recognizes the rift between cultures and says Levels will bridge the gap that unites instead of divides.

“I think that once we all get to know each other we’ll be fine and I think there is a deliberate intention of the powers that be to have us not be united and not like each other…so we won’t be able to create spaces together like Levels,” he said.

Levels Nigerian Cuisine
Photo credit: T.Moore of Tmooremedia

Plans For The Future

Moving forward, Ikanone says Levels is perfecting its stride. His team is amplifying the menu and atmosphere to ensure it consistently delivers the vibe patrons are looking for. Long term, Ikanone says he’d like to see a Levels Nigerian Cuisine restaurant on every corner around the country.

“You can see an Asian restaurant on every corner in the city and I can see that for Nigerian cuisine,” he said.

A pioneer for creating safe, fun spaces, Ikanone hopes Levels continues a journey he embarked on years ago. Determined to build more community beyond personal differences, Ikanone is manifesting greatness for a new wave of Nigerian restaurants. 

“We’re changing people’s minds about who we are and I think it’s going to bring us closer in the long run,” he said.