Following the success of his Dallas location, Kevin Kelley plans to open a second Kitchen + Kocktails in Chicago. Opening in September of this year, the 10,000 sq. ft. restaurant will be located at 444 N. Wabash in River North. Complete with a dining room, two bars, and a private dining area, this location will hold 300 people and offer an array of Southern Comfort food.
The Chicago Defender had an opportunity to talk with Kevin Kelley on the inspiration behind Kitchen + Kocktails, what Chicago residents can expect, and how it feels to be a Black restaurateur in River North.
Chicago Defender: How did you get started with Kitchen + Kocktails? Do you have a background in culinary arts or is this a passion of yours?
Kevin Kelley (KK): I don’t have a background in culinary arts. I’m actually an attorney by trade. Food and beverage is a passion of mine. So I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to invest in a couple of concepts. With Kitchen + Kocktails being the latest. That’s how we got our Dallas location, which has been sold out since we opened last August. And that led us to expand and open up a location in Chicago.
Chicago Defender: Why Chicago?
Kevin Kelley: To sum it up, the people. We had many options across the country. We’ve been contacted by a lot of people about bringing the concept to different locations. But Chicago is the best option for us because of the people in the city. I’ve been to several places but the people of Chicago have always been warm. They’ve always been welcoming. The city is a fantastic city as it relates to food. So we feel that we can make our mark here with Southern Comfort food that the city will love.
Chicago Defender: What are some dishes that we can expect?
Kevin Kelley: You can expect our shrimp and grits, which is my personal favorite with the fried lobster tail on top. We have a variety of fried chickens. We have smothered fried chicken and Nashville Hot. There’s also our special Asian Hennessy sauce and jerk-flavored chicken as well.
We have lamb chops which are probably our number one selling item. That’s a good one because we use jerk seasoning within other flavors. Which takes away the gaminess of the product. And so a lot of people come back for the lamb chops.
But beyond the kitchen, or bar program is really spectacular. We’ve had a number of good bartenders, who create phenomenal drinks. Some include a cotton candy cocktail. We have a black magic cocktail, made with dried ice, so smoke elevates from the drink. We have a watermelon Frosé that comes in a mini watermelon. And we’ve got a peach D’usse Frosé that comes in a D’usse bottle.
Chicago Defender: What does it mean for you to be a Black restauranteur in River North?
Kevin Kelley: I’m increasingly aware of what it means to open in River North. And am very blessed and thankful to have the opportunity to bring a restaurant to that part of the city. When I dine in River North, I love the restaurants. And I noticed that there’s a lot of diversity. There’s a lot of Black people that are in River North.
So it’s a proper thing to have a restaurant that has Southern food. That is a staple of our culture to have our people come to that same area. And so we’re excited to bring something to the city that will be an asset to the culture.
Chicago Defender: What do you look forward to the most about the Chicago location?
Kevin Kelley: I’m excited that the restaurant will employ somewhere between 100 and 150 people. The cool thing is that we give lots of opportunities to those who may not have it without the restaurant. We hire a lot of minorities and have women that hold positions of power.
Our executive chef, Vanessa Brown, who is a Black woman, will oversee our Dallas and Chicago operations. We have two young Black men on our management team. And that that’s a big thing for me.
The food is good. The drinks are going to be good. The people are going to have a good time. But even beyond that, the opportunities created for so many people are going to be a fantastic thing. So I’m happy about that because they deserve this opportunity.
Chicago Defender: What is the official opening date for Kitchen + Kocktails?
Kevin Kelley: We intend to open on September 3rd, with reservations starting August 3rd. So we encourage everyone to go to our Instagram page, @kitchenkocktailschi for updates.
The biggest challenge we’ve had with our Dallas location is that we’ve been sold out since opening. And we think it might be that same dynamic in Chicago. So when reservations open up, we want people to book them. We want people to plan to be in the restaurant because we can’t wait to meet more people to make more friends and to serve the city.
Contributing Writer Racquel Coral is a national lifestyle writer and journalist based in Chicago, Illinois. Find her on social media @withloveracquel.