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Local Superstar Chef Oya Talks About the “TRAP”pings of Identity, Empowerment and the Importance of Community

A classically trained chef, Chef Oya Woodruff shares about her restaurant The TRAP, and feeding her community with love, soul, and seafood.
Three different photos of seafood dishes from TRAP

“Quick Bites with Lavanya Narayanan” is a four-part series delving into the world of culinary female entrepreneurs in Indiana; this is the final article in the series.

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Chef Oya Woodruff, the owner of The TRAP on Keystone Avenue in Indianapolis, agrees to meet me at a café in Castleton, and the moment she walks in, I am put at ease by her warm yet self-assured demeanor. The word “TRAP” in her business is a self-created acronym for “Toward Restoring food Access to the People,” and as we begin chatting, it’s clear that this is a woman who loves what she’s doing—and genuinely cares about those she’s feeding.

 
 
 
 
 
 

“My community, this community, they made me who I am today. It’s why I could never leave Indianapolis for good—I’d never want to, really,” she says.

A classically trained chef, Oya’s gained experience from the best of the best that Indianapolis catering has to offer. Her passion for food, however, came from within the home.

A photo of Chef Oya, a black woman in glasses and black shirt
Chef Oya; photo by Ankh Productions

“I come from a family of culinarians—my grandmothers were fabulous cooks for major banquet companies—so I know what fine food is, and I appreciate it as much as I appreciate Southern soul food,” she tells us.

After she was laid off from her job as a car saleswoman, Oya decided to take matters into her own hands, channeling her love of seafood into what became known as The TRAP in 2016.

“I had tried these seafood boil trays when visiting a friend in Jacksonville, Florida, and loved them so much that I wanted to recreate them, especially in a place like Indianapolis,” she explains.

And so, it began—with lines on her front porch, Oya took her trays public and opened a storefront in 2017, feeding her community with love, soul, and seafood. It didn’t take long for word to get out, and for her fanbase to flourish.

“We don’t really ‘market,’ you know? I just post videos on my social media—me being goofy, us behind the scenes. That’s how I am in real life, and I think that’s why my customers love what I do,” she smiles.

A photo of lots of seasoned shrimp from TRAP
Photo by Xival Photography

Her food is delicious, heartwarming, and anything but goofy. But best of all, it’s an entry point to the culture of seafood that often escapes individuals out in the Midwest. And her secret sauce? It’s all in the “buttah.”

“We make an in-house TRAP buttah: It’s a garlic butter that we flavor five different ways. And everything gets seasoned with Young Bae spice—it’s made by my friend, Candace Boyd, who runs FoodLoveTog. With so many combinations, it’s like creating your own seafood adventure,” Chef Oya says.

She recommends a “Shrimp Sampler,” loaded with 25 jumbo shrimp—5 each per buttah—and spiced to your liking. Another hit is the “Loaded Crab Legs with Shrimp Tray,” adorned with seafood and boil-style vegetables like potatoes, corn, and broccoli.

And while the TRAP is a mighty force of Chef Oya’s reckoning, she is eager to share her knowledge and creativity with other like-minded business owners. Whether it’s collaborating with Black-owned businesses like Cleo’s Bodega and Cafe, which carries her famous seafood chowder and uses TRAP buttah in their grilled cheeses, to her on-the-menu seafood pizza at The Missing Brick, which she claims is “the best seafood pizza in all of Indiana” (and yes, she did her market research), her food speaks to a larger cause: brother and sisterhood.

A photo of Chef Oya in a green shirt smiling
Chef Oya; photo by Ankh Productions

“We share a fraternity as Black-owned business owners. We’ve got each other’s backs, no matter what,” she explains. It’s a pillar of Oya’s mission: Accessibility.

“My food is super unpretentious and easily accessible—that’s one of my big things, being accessible to everybody. I feel that food isn’t something you should have to earn. If someone in the neighborhood is hungry, they should know that they can come knock on the door and we’ll feed them, no matter what,” she says.

Oya’s food may be unpretentious, but don’t be mistaken; it’s still game-changing in Indy. Her cooking breaks boundaries, but in a statuesque, tigress sort of way: fierce, yet fabulous. Just like her.

“You know, I check every box: black, plus-size, female, queer. Especially in the restaurant industry. But I’ve never seen myself as less-than: After all, it’s all about who you authentically are. That’s enough to draw people, to build support, and to nourish yourself and others.”

Lavanya Narayanan is an Indianapolis-based journalist who’s always on the lookout for the next best bite. When she’s not out restaurant-hopping, she loves experimenting with friends in the kitchen and has a special affinity in her heart for Starbucks, Twizzlers, and Diet Coke. 

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