My Town

My Town: The Okie Dokie Foodie’s Oklahoma City

How the social media do-gooder Jennifer Bui—and legions of hungry diners around OKC—support small businesses

Photo: Courtesy of Visit OKC

photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Bui
Photographer Jennifer Bui.

With a nose for Kenyan-style masala French fries and an eye for heartstring-tugging stories of Cambodian refugee restaurateurs, the Okie Dokie Foodie serves up heaping portions of compelling social media stories about Oklahoma’s City’s diverse food scene.

While attending her annual training as an Air Force reservist in the summer of 2020, Jennifer Bui saw the news that 300,000 restaurants had closed since the pandemic started, and the number could soon double or triple. Motivated to help slow the disaster, she began posting empathetic portraits of local food spots on Facebook.

At fourteen, Bui had watched as her own mother closed their small Korean restaurant in Lawton, Oklahoma, and Bui’s heart broke as she imagined so many families experiencing the stress, sadness, and hopelessness she still vividly remembered. The corporate instructional systems designer also ran a side business as a wedding and portrait photographer, so she turned her lens toward struggling restaurateurs and their dishes, posting their stories on the nascent Okie Dokie Foodie page. “Every time I wrote, I thought about my mom,” Bui says. Within two weeks, she had her first viral post about the local restaurant scene and saw that her followers could help these small businesses in a big way.

Bui seeks out restaurants that make unique dishes, but especially those run by single parents, immigrants, or folks with language barriers, which add to the difficulty of surviving in a tough industry. The resulting feed reflects a side of Oklahoma City’s culinary scene that rarely receives as much attention as burgers and barbecue. “The cultural diversity is really surprising for its size,” Bui says. “Big enough to have options, but small enough to get to know it on a personal level.”

Two years in, 38,000 people follow Okie Dokie Foodie on Facebook for her “Humans of New York”–style posts about Laotian, Nigerian, and Nicaraguan spots. The support from fans regularly helps owners pay rent and stay afloat. For Bui, making that difference is what matters. “It reminds me of what I wish I could have done for my mom.” Here are just a few of Bui’s favorite spots that her followers are loving around Oklahoma City:

Ling’s Cakery

Opening in July 2020 made for an uphill road for the Ling’s team, but the intricate decorations and fluffy treats, such as peach oolong mille crepe cake, made by self-taught baker Ling Chen, taste like the high-quality, semi-sweet baked goods Bui remembers from visiting family in Korea.

Plus2fivefour Kenyan

Around the same time, Kenyan immigrants Stayce and Brian Momanyi opened this food truck, named for the country code to dial home. After seven years of saving money to make their dream business real, they now serve masala French fries so good that Bui cried when she ate them.

ZamZam Mediterranean Grill

Yousef Elyassani, his brother, and his brother-in-law originally started ZamZam in 2007 to share their fragrant kabobs, creamy hummus, and scratch-made grape leaves, but when the pandemic hit, this Palestinian-owned restaurant had only just reopened, a year after a devastating fire.

Ice-alicious Snow

After seventeen years of working at Sonic, single-mom Natasha Swopes opened this year-round shave-ice stand to try to build a better future for her three kids. The business even survived moving twice in the pandemic. Swopes makes all her own innovative syrups (yellow cake, margarita marshmallow) and earns lines for her cheesecake-stuffed creations.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ice-alicious Snow (@icealicioussnow)

Birrieria el Rancho

Sergio Marquez and his wife Sandra Martinez make birria so serious, customers bring the traditional spicy stew to their Mexican grandmothers. But they play hard too, using the foods from their gas station convenience store location to make birria Flamin’ Hot Cheetos quesadillas and birria ramen with instant noodles.