Oobah Butler: A True Entrepreneur


Mian Hua Zheng

I was able to meet Oobah Butler at his book launch in Brooklyn!

Imagine being able to fake your way to the front of Paris Fashion Week with a brand that you found in the local street market, taking it as your own with the identity of Giorgia Peviani. Getting five of your friends a free meal at a buffet by dressing in the same hawaiian shirts and large sunglasses. Making it to the top number one restaurant in London on TripAdvisor when you don’t even own a restaurant. These are only a few of the accomplishments of Oobah Butler, a freelance writer and creator from the UK.

I went to Oobah’s book release in Brooklyn a few weeks ago, a small cozy location with a soft rainbow rug and simple chairs at seven in the evening. The first time you meet him, he’s all smiles and a bit of nervousness, with shocking white hair that suits his mischief. He talked about his new book, and his story behind the different events he’s been known for.

To give some context, I’ll explain one of Oobah’s infamous projects: making London’s #1 on TripAdvisor. It’s a site like our American Yelp, and Oobah previously had some freelance work where he was hired to write fake reviews for restaurants on it. Upon this job, our writer became curious about the role they played in the popularity of some places. He decided to do a small side project, hiring friends and family to write reviews of a restaurant he named “The Shed,” the address at his cramped home of overgrown vines and a box of hats. Like us high school students, he too was broke and hence a shed was truly the type of space he was living in at that time. Oobah took pictures of fake food, such as a dish detergent pellet made to look like delicious saucy shallots, all carefully executed photography of the bougie food many crave for. He would write up a fake menu about each dish being a “feeling,” to channel true peculiar authenticity many people crave in mainstream Instagram-aesthetic places. Of course, Oobah made sure his friends were saying similar things to not give the game away.

“I feel like it’s really impressive how much effort Oobah puts into his projects. I’ve only watched some of his videos, but he’s always going the extra mile to try something new in them. They’re really fun to watch!” said Stephanie Weng ’19.

Only photos, an address, and phone number were needed to be approved as a restaurant. Soon enough, calls were ringing into the disposable phone Oobah had bought just for this project. First, it was one call. Then became three, and soon enough, hundreds of call, driving him up the wall. People even tried to use celebrity status to get a seat, but Oobah would lie and tell them they were booked for months, using the frustration as fuel to give his restaurant even more popularity. Soon enough, he decided to actually host a few guests, cooking microwave dinners plated nicely and powdered soup in a cup, in his very backyard with live chickens around for a touch of “home-y.” I would say only applause can be attributed to such an elaborate ruse played off from the beginnings of an idea, friends, and a camera. This is simply one of the many projects Oobah has been able to pull off.

“I feel like it’s really impressive how much effort Oobah puts into his projects. I’ve only watched some of his videos, but he’s always going the extra mile to try something new in them. They’re really fun to watch!” said Stephanie Weng ’19.

From a story of a childhood beach business selling collected seashells to simply doing everything and anything out of curiosity, I see Oobah as a true representation of putting inspiration and curiosity into action and results. On a deeper level, Oobah creating a fake restaurant, made exclusive based off only online reviews, demonstrates the prominent role of pecuniary emulation, a theory by Thorstein Veblen in which people use others’ possessions as model for what they want to have themselves. It’s a theory that implements both economics and  psychological standards into the threads of society, explaining how seeing others with more wealth motivates the different classes to contribute, with a never ending level of expectation and temporary, pit-less satisfaction achieved.

On another note, it’s simply a type of curiosity that I find is rarer to find nowadays, for the pure heck and joy of it. The emphasis of Oobah’s projects is not just to reveal the workings of society socially, but also is just because it’s fun! I feel like different projects, especially elaborate ruses that are not necessarily pranks, are a type of entertainment that has been lost nowadays in our mainstream media culture of either completely silly memes or serious commentary.

To me, Oobah is inspirational in the sense of being able to have the passion to answer the questions, whether they are ones he’s been pondering about for years or one that has popped up for him just in the moment. He’s amusing to watch, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see harmless projects just done “for the heck of it.” I recommend you to check out his videos if you ever need a laugh or inspiration to finally roll up your sleeves and hit up the bucket list gathering dust in the corner. I’m looking forward to the future projects Oobah has in store for us!