The Chicago Defender got an exclusive look at KIS Restaurant, a new full-service eatery coming to Markham, IL next month. We sat down with the owner and restaurateur, Chef Aisha Robinson, who shared her success story with us. Aisha was born and raised in Chicago and is a proud alumnus of Hyde Park Career Academy. She admits the road to restaurant ownership had its challenges but knows that it made her the woman she is today.
Aisha’s success did not come easily. Raised by a single mother, a full-time employee of AT&T, Aisha and her brother’s life changed dramatically in high school. In Aisha’s senior year of high school, her mother developed brain tumors on her optic nerve, which led to permanent blindness. Consequently, Aisha had to miss several school days, causing her to fail the required English class to graduate. Aisha was unable to walk the graduation stage with her classmates and graduated after summer school. She worked at Taco Bell, but that did not last long because of the major undertaking of caring for her mom and her little brother, who was only two years old at the time. Aisha found out she was pregnant, and then her life changed forever. Her mom passed away on August 29, 1996. Fourteen days later, Aisha gave birth to her first child, a son, on September 10, 1996. In 1999, she moved to Fort Wayne, IN, to provide a better life for her family. Later, she gave birth to her daughter. She moved back to Chicago in 2001 and had her last baby girl in 2002. To sustain her household, Aisha did hair, something she did throughout high school. “People loved my food. My clients would come over to get their hair laid and their bellies fed”, says Aisha. In 2005, she decided to attend school to become a licensed cosmetologist. She only had 150 credit hours to go when she faced another obstacle. Her house caught on fire while she, the children, and their dog were in it. Though they made it out alright, the fire destroyed everything.
In 2007 she met the love of her life, Loren. Married since 2016, Loren’s family operated Giovanni’s Pizzeria in Dolton, and after it closed, they ran the banquet hall, The Dorchester, also in Dolton. It was there that Aisha’s destiny began to take shape and her purpose unfold. Loren’s mother asked her to come and help in the kitchen. She sampled some of Aisha’s dishes and decided that Aisha would become the cook and lead the kitchen. In November 2015, Aisha and Loren decided to venture out on their own and start a catering company. She says her husband came up with the name. “He woke me up out of my sleep in the middle of the night and said ‘I got it. I got the name of the catering company!” KIS Soul Food and Catering was born. “KIS is an acronym: K is for Katherine (my husband’s mother who passed in 2010 – she allowed me to showcase my cooking skills on a grand scale at the Dorchester); I is for Ida (my grandmother who passed in 2015 – most of my recipes come from her); S is for Suriel (my mom – I received my business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit from her).”
KIS catering business was booming. Everyone in her family became involved. She taught her children the ropes from setup to cooking in the kitchen. “We received so much support. I love my Hyde Park classmates. Most of our lunch orders came from them. They showed up and showed out. I will be forever grateful to them for that.” In 2020, Aisha and Loren took another leap of faith and decided it was time to open a brick and mortar. They signed the lease to operate KIS Restaurant in the building formerly known as Adriana’s in Markham. Aisha points out that the landlord of the space has been amazing throughout the entire process. They are ready to open their doors as soon as the City of Markham gives them the green light. With many of her family, friends, and clients anxiously awaiting the grand opening, the buzz is out. Aisha anticipates it will be February 14, 2021. “Save the date for date night,” she laughs. KIS will be a full-service restaurant opening in two phases. The first phase includes the opening of the dining room, with carryout and delivery options available. The second phase is to open the restaurant’s event venue side, which has a grand stage and seating, VIP booths, and multiple smaller rooms to rent for special occasions. Aisha plans to host karaoke nights and have a live band performing every night. KIS will feature most of the dishes that Aisha’s catering clients have grown to love over the years. The menu includes party wings, Cajun fried green tomatoes, meatloaf cupcakes, smother chicken, baked turkey wings, pot roast, salmon croquettes, collard, mustard, turnip greens, cornbread dressing, mac ‘n cheese, sweet potatoes, and more.
KIS Restaurant is located at 2024 W. 163rd, Markham, IL, 60428, Suite 1. Stay connected and up to date on grand opening events, specials, and all things KIS on social media: Facebook, @KISSouldFood, and Instagram @kis_restaurant_bar.
“When it’s your time to shine, it’s your time. Keep pushing no matter what obstacles come your way. It will all be worth it. After all that I went through from a teenager to now, I know now that it prepared me for this. It’s finally my time to shine!”