Kevin Kelley may be an attorney by trade, but he’s recently added restaurateur to his resume, with two restaurant openings in the space of a year. Kelley is a Texan who opened his first restaurant in Dallas in August 2020. 

He’s now following that success up with a second location of Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley in downtown Chicago, which will serve elevated Southern comfort food in River North. The restaurant is scheduled to open in early September.

“We’ve been sold out in Dallas since we opened,” Kelley says. “We’ve served nearly 200,000 people. I’m blessed that we’ve been so successful in the middle of the pandemic.”

Kelley’s Dallas location made headlines last year after a video of him ranting about a group of women reportedly twerking in his restaurant.

The Chicago location at 444 North Wabash will be twice the size of the one in Dallas, and Kelley looks forward to accommodating more guests and larger parties in the new space. The 10,000-square-foot restaurant will seat 207 guests, including two bars and a private dining area.

“Chicago has a phenomenal restaurant scene and we feel that we have a good opportunity to bring something unique to the market,” he says. “This project is so important to me and I think it can be important to Black culture as a whole.”

“The absence of Black-owned restaurants in downtown Chicago only gave us more belief that we should be in Chicago,” Kevin Kelley says. Photo courtesy of Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley
A look at the cocktails that will be served at Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley. Photo courtesy of Kitchen + Kocktails by Kevin Kelley

Kelley says that Kitchen + Kocktails is customer-driven, not chef-driven. Guests can choose their favorite flavors to accompany entrees such as fried chicken and waffles, lamb chops and pork chops. Nashville hot, smothered, jerk and Asian Hennessy are just a few options for seasonings and sauces. 

“Southern fried chicken with waffles and shrimp and grits are our calling cards,” Kelley says. But they have lobster tails, tomahawk steaks and even vegan bowls on the menu too. 

On the sweet side, waffles come in a variety of decadent Southern flavors including butter pecan, peach cobbler, banana pudding and red velvet. Expect a soundtrack that includes Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye and Common, along with a thoughtfully designed dining room staged for great photo ops.

“The absence of Black-owned restaurants in downtown Chicago only gave us more belief that we should be in Chicago,” Kelley says. “Black people, we love to eat and we take pride in concepts that are Black-owned and Black-supported.” 

Kelley’s customer base in Dallas is primarily Black and he anticipates the same in Chicago, where the Black population is more than double the size of Dallas.

“For a Black man to come to Chicago and secure a prime location in River North, you have to be able to have access to property and capital,” Kelley says. “Without David Goldberg, I wouldn’t be in Chicago.” 

Kelley credits Goldberg, CEO of real estate company Goldstreet Partners, with helping him find an ideal location for the Kitchen + Kocktails and opening doors to set an outsider up for success. He found them online and said they were great to work with.

“Chicago’s home for me now,” Kelley says. “I’ll be in the city very frequently. We’re working on the development of the space right now.” 

He says Jerk Villa Bar & Grill and Maple & Ash are a couple of his favorite Chicago restaurants at the moment — at least until his own Kitchen + Kocktails opens. He’s already looking forward to expanding the concept to additional cities like Los Angeles, Detroit or Miami. 

Downtown Chicago might not currently have any large Black-owned restaurants, but Kelley hopes to inspire others in Chicago’s food and restaurant industry to develop and support minority-owned concepts and businesses, leading by example with his own success.

“I’m 100% owner and 100% financing my own concept and project,” Kelley says. “Owning a restaurant is now one of the things I’m most proud of. It’s an opportunity to serve the community and to look around and see people happy, enjoying the music and food and to know that my business is a part of their happiness is really special.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.