Surf is a privacy-first browser extension that allows people to passively earn from the data they choose to share. It provides brands a better way to engage and understand consumers while compensating consumers for their data. Surf was founded in 2018 and is based in Toronto, Ontario.
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Latest Surf News
Jan 2, 2023
The inspiring story behind a food spot which Ancoats absolutely loves Benjamin Onalaja's path to success has not been an easy one, but he's learned a lot along the way. The M.E.N's Jenna Campbell reports 07:09, 2 JAN 2023 Group 28 Invalid emailSomething went wrong, please try again later. Sign Up We use your sign-up to provide content in the ways you've consented to and improve our understanding of you. This means that we may include adverts from us and third parties based on our knowledge of you. We also may change the frequency you receive our emails from us in order to keep you up to date and give you the best relevant information possible. As always you can unsubscribe at any time. More info Group 28 If you’ve ever found yourself crawling bumper-to-bumper along Great Ancoats Street you might have spotted Soul & Surf, a small restaurant with tables and chairs pitched up outside, selling soul food and cocktails. Peak inside and the first thing you’ll spot is a black and white mural featuring iconic singers Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, local legends Bugzy Malone and Aitch, and sports stars Raheem Sterling and Anthony Joshua, amongst others. For founder Benjamin Onalaja this mural isn’t about just aesthetics, it’s about inspiration. “I fell in love with business about five years ago - and the idea of wanting to make something good for myself and my family,” Ben tells me, as we sit down inside the restaurant one Wednesday morning. "I wanted to be able to give my family something to be proud of because of my past, so during lockdown I said to myself I was going to get all of my ideas together and bring them to life and that’s where the journey began.” The path that led Ben to the point of opening his own restaurant in 2021 was one fraught with difficulty. In 2016 he was jailed for his involvement in a bogus police officer scheme and for running an £82,000 hi-tech ‘sim-splitting’ bank fraud. Soul & Surf in Ancoats opened in 2021 (Image: Manchester Evening News) He was jailed for 22 months, but was released early after seven months for good behaviour. Following his release, Ben knew he wanted to turn his life around by launching his own business, and it was during lockdown that the opportunity arose. “I’m looking for a second chance and to show people how far I’ve come since then and to show other young men how they can change their lives for the better. I got mixed up in the wrong crowd and involved in something I didn’t fully understand - this affected me a lot but I managed to find the light.” What transpired was Soul & Surf - a small but popular restaurant established by Ben and head chef Titi serving up a fusion of West African and soul food from America’s deep south. “During lockdown I came across this girl called Titi and I liked the food she was making, so I thought I would pitch her my idea and it was great, because the menus I had were similar to what she was thinking. Soul & Surf - a small but popular restaurant established by Ben and head chef Titi (Image: Manchester Evening News) “My mum is my biggest supporter and she was like ‘do you know what, I can see you really want to do this', so she helped me fund the idea. The food we do here is modern, West African food, so there’s this rice which we call jollof rice and I wanted to try and introduce a bit of African spice to Ancoats and the Northern Quarter. Whether it’s lobster tail and king prawn surf boxes, Cajun salmon or Gizdodo - a mix of chicken gizzard and plantain garnished with mixed peppers - menus here are innovative and diverse, with both Ben and Titi unafraid to push the boundaries. “It’s been great since it started last year, so many different people have come in here,” says Ben. “I won’t lie, it did bring a tear to my eye when it opened because not in a million years did I think I could visualise this and make it happen. I was in here a lot for the first six months just grafting, and a group of Chinese people came in and they loved the gizzard that we do, because like us they have that in their culture too. It’s great to be able to give people that knowledge of our food and experience it as well.” The soul platter, a smorgasbord of soul food delights ranging from crispy chicken wings to juicy king prawns (Image: Manchester Evening News) Originally from Blackley, Ben says the food they’re making at Soul & Surf is the food he knows and loves. “This food is my favourite food. The jollof rice I can eat all day. I also wanted to make it modern because a lot of West African food is more hands on, you can eat with your hands and we’ve mixed it with southern culture so we’re not just throwing people in.” As well as the soul boxes, the restaurant’s brunch menu nods to the contemporary element with dishes like the Biscoff Bad Boy laden with salted caramel sauce and the Breakfast waffle with sausages, bacon and maple syrup, appealing to the Northern Quarter brunch crowd. “I really think this was meant to be - the last place here was called Soul Café, and when I sat down I was thinking of loads of names and this worked. Soul because of the food and surf is the seafood we serve.” Benjamin Onalaja from Soul & Surf restaurant in Ancoats (Image: Manchester Evening News) While Ben’s past is firmly behind him, he’s never spoken publicly about what happened and the effect this had on him and his family. “My baby turned one not long ago and my name is my legacy, and I don’t want it to relate to my past. “When I read the papers it broke me because I didn’t know what I was doing at the time and I couldn’t put across my side and what I felt happened and explain myself. I was so naïve and confused. “It is what it is and it got to the point where I thought 'I’m not going to let this bring me down anymore', but I won’t lie it did for a bit. I lost confidence. “I didn't let any of my family come and visit me when I was inside because no one expected that of me, it was a big shock. I thought I had let everyone down. Soul & Surf in Ancoats features a large mural with some famous faces on (Image: Manchester Evening News) “My dad especially, because he does navigation and he was a captain of a ship and he had tried to push me to do that, and I even went to London for an interview for him and passed, so I had a lot of options, but then that happened, it was a big let-down for all of them and I’m the oldest from my mum’s side and my dad’s got a son so I felt like they still looked up to me. While Ben was in prison, he says it was the governor who helped him realise that he still had so much to look forward to. “I was in university at the time when I got sent down and I told him ‘when I come out I am going to resit my exams in electrical engineering’ and he looked at me and asked me to repeat myself. “He said he has never heard anyone say that before, so when I asked him if I could have my engineering books sent to the prison to revise, he said I could stay in and revise. And because of that motivation to try and come out and do those exams, and because I didn’t concern myself with what was going on in the prison too much, that kept me grounded. Benjamin Onalaja from Soul & Surf restaurant in Ancoats (Image: Manchester Evening News) “The early release and the confidence he had in me was a big help. Every single officer came in when I left and gave me a hug.” His mum was the first to embrace Ben when he left prison, telling him that she knew the person who ended up in prison was not him. “I learnt my lesson and said I’m not going to let people talk me into doing something I don’t feel comfortable with again and even if I’m in a bad spot, there’s no situation that should lead you to go and do a bad thing - there’s always ways around it. I’ve realised I need to talk more and open up about my situation.” “The whole situation opened my eyes and when I came out I knew it was a setback but I’m also a big believer in church and God, and some people say it happens for a reason, but you need to make whatever has happened the reason you’re going to change in the future.” The brunch menu from Soul & Surf in Ancoats (Image: Manchester Evening News) There were no shortcuts for Ben when he came out, and for a few years he toyed a number of ideas. “I even thought of opening a cleaning company because I’ve got mad OCD, then after that I tried to be a barber, but that wasn’t quite right and then lockdown happened and I started tasting different foods and then that was it - I knew.” Now, as we take a look around Soul & Surf, Ben, grinning from ear to ear, brings over the Soul platter, a smorgasbord of soul food delights ranging from crispy chicken wings, juicy king prawns, buttery lobster tail, a side of jollof rice and a waffle dripping with chocolate for good measure. As I tuck in, he tells me about his new special, the surf loaded fries - a carb fest of Cajun spiced fries, melted cheese, garlic and chilli prawns and Soul & Surf’s secret sauce. Ben admits he’s still learning, tweaking and listening, but says he’s enjoying every stage of the process. “This is my first time doing this, I don’t always know what I’m doing but I’m going to give it my all, and take any advice and help that comes my way. “I just wanted to share my story and show people that your past doesn’t need to define who you are. I feel like in today’s society it’s easy to get led astray, but with support and more people showing things can be done the right way, I believe the future is promising.” READ NEXT:
Surf Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When was Surf founded?
Surf was founded in 2018.
Where is Surf's headquarters?
Surf's headquarters is located at 100 Broadview Ave, Toronto.
What is Surf's latest funding round?
Surf's latest funding round is Other Investors.
Who are the investors of Surf?
Investors of Surf include Moneta Ventures.
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