Chicago native Briana Fears couldn’t wait to try out Kitchen + Kocktails, a new Black-owned restaurant opening just in time for her homegirl’s birthday. It started out smoothly, when they were seated at their 6:30 p.m. reservation on Sunday, Oct. 3. But things only went downhill from there. 

Fears says her party was aware of the chatter about the restaurant’s shaky grand opening. They were prepared to give the restaurant staff grace for the two-hour wait they were warned about, but things soon got out of hand.

“It was 10:30 p.m. when they finally brought us food. They brought out five plates of fried chicken. No one at the table ordered fried chicken,” Fears said. 

They talked to multiple managers while waiting, and none could give an explanation for the exorbitant wait times, she said. “I could’ve driven to Carbondale in the time it took our food to come out. And then it was wrong.”

We spoke to Fears and three other people who were ecstatic about Kitchen + Kocktails heading into its opening weekend on Oct. 1-3. Alongside generally positive reviews of the restaurant staff and decor, all four people shared similar experiences with long wait times, drinks not appearing as advertised and kitchen errors. 

Because of this, and the chatter happening on our social media timelines about Kitchen + Kocktails, we reached out to owner Kevin Kelley to ask him how he feels opening weekend went, and how he plans to deliver the best dining experience by and for Black people.

“We’re going to give Chicago the best food that the city has,” Kelley told The TRiiBE in an interview on Oct. 8. “We’re offering something the city has never seen before: comfort food that is greater, in an environment that’s first class.”

Under the “Our Story” section of the website for the Dallas-born Kitchen + Kocktails, the restaurant confidently declares, “We know what Chicago is missing, and we know what Chicago deserves.” 

It’s a bold statement; one that seems to guarantee that the owners are going to provide something to its clientele that can’t be found anywhere else in Chicago. That’s a tall order for Black Chicagoans, in particular, where Black-owned restaurants such as Virtue, 14 Parish, Luella’s and Eleven Eleven have already found success on the corner of Black cuisine and luxe dining experiences.

In a city where de facto segregation encourages Black people to steer clear of areas like River North, which have plenty of fine-dining options, it’s nice to see a Black-owned restaurant like Kitchen + Kocktails pop up there. A Black-owned establishment in River North could be a safe haven, a place where Black people can be free from the paranoia of whether their experience will be soiled by covert racism.


From the time The TRiiBE dropped a preview story on Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago opening, we’ve seen chatter on social media, speculating about what the experience at the Chicago location would be like. Almost a year ago, a viral video clip showed Kelley berating customers at the original K+K in Dallas for twerking at his establishment. The clip sparked a misogynistically charged debate throughout Black media about what constitutes restaurant appropriate conduct and dress. 

By the time opening weekend rolled around for Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago, the Dallas outlet’s reputation had the restaurant fully booked up with Black Chicagoans wanting to find out if the hype was true.

Fears and her party went to check it out Sunday, Oct. 3, and were there from 6:30 p.m. until closing time at 11:00 p.m., when the staff all but threw their hands up about the situation. 

“It got so late that they just brought out a bunch of food they had in the back and told us to take whatever we wanted to go,” Fears said. “We walked out with big bags filled with entrees and sides in takeout containers.”

Skylar Greer went to Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago with her friend Mikeya Bates, and more. She spoke to the manager about their experience. Photo from Mikeya Bates.
A photo of a Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago drink. Mikeya Bates said the drink was advertised as a frozen drink. Photo from Mikeya Bates.

Of course, Fears’ experience wasn’t exceptional for that weekend. Chicago native Mikeya Bates was there that same night with her own party of six. She says, on top of the nearly three-hour wait time, she was floored by how disorganized everything was.

“One of the managers said they’d just gotten their liquor license on Thursday, Sept. 30 and weren’t truly prepared to open,” Bates said. “What our waitress said is that people just go in the back and they grab whatever food that they see.”

Bates said she watched plates of food be taken to other tables that matched what her party ordered, and had even been randomly offered a plate that she didn’t order.  

“We ended up getting a random order of crab cakes brought to our table because the guy who brought it out was just like, ‘y’all want these?’” Bates said.

Even for the people who enjoyed their experience at Kitchen + Kocktails, their reviews include similar experiences as the negative reviews. Chicago native and pastry chef Alexis Hill, for example, visited with a party of seven for brunch and is already ready to go back.

Photo courtesy of Alexis Hill.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Hill.

“The waitress told us ahead of time that it might be a while. We were prepared for the long wait for food because we knew it was the grand opening weekend,” Hill said. “There was some stuff missing from our order when they first brought it out, but we were understanding.”

Hill says K+K comped some things off of their bill. Her party had such a good time that they stayed for hours after brunch, just kicking it. “It would be another thing if this place had been around for months making mistakes like they were, but it was opening weekend,” Hill added. 

On Oct. 8, Kelley explained he’s since made changes in the restaurant to address the opening weekend complaints. He’d brought in staff from the original K+K in Dallas, and focused on training the team to adapt to customer demand. 

“In my experience, it might take 30 to 90 days for this concept to be exactly what it needs to be,” Kelley said. “We understand people wanted perfection from day one, but this is a business and the business isn’t perfect.”

When Kitchen + Kocktails Chicago posted their dress code on Instagram a day ahead of their grand opening, it sparked more conversation on social media.

Dress codes are nothing new for Black Chicagoans. Fitted caps, jerseys, bonnets, durags and hoodies invoke an image in the minds of restaurant, club and entertainment venue owners; an image of someone — usually Black — who will vandalize, shoot up, or otherwise endanger their property.

Many Black people in Chicago have come to understand that these codes are in place to attract a specific kind of clientele; the whites. That’s why the dress code at Kitchen + Kocktails raised a few eyebrows. However, the people interviewed for this story didn’t feel a way about K+K’s dress code going into their visit.

But food blogger Kim Durden says her feelings about it changed when uneven dress code enforcement plagued her night from the moment she got there. One of the members of her party had just come straight there from work at Northwestern Medicine and she still had her rubber-soled slides on.

“We came in and one of the hosts tells us to take a picture in front of the sign, so we did. While we’re taking the picture, another employee came and whispered in my girlfriend’s ear,” Durden said. At that moment, Durden didn’t realize what was going on. 

“We get to a table and I’m asking around like ‘where’s my friend?’ One of the managers said they escorted her out,” Durden said.

Given her experience as a traveling food blogger under her brand Divine Dine Food Tours, Durden has learned that dress codes are typical of places who want to invite a specific kind of clientele, whatever that means to that particular restaurant. 

Her specific issue with K+K was in the uneven way the dress code was enforced during her visit, and in questioning whether the atmosphere of the restaurant leant itself to such a code. 

“I told the senior operations manager, who came to our table, that I watched several other people come in wearing slides,” Durden added. “I saw more buttcracks and breasts than anything but you sent my friend away for having on slides. I was just confused about what they considered offensive attire.”

When asked about the dress code, Kelley said that it’s in place because they “believe in the quality of our people.” He continued, “we want to see our people look their best. Our customers help us enforce the dress code because they don’t want people there who don’t look nice like they look nice.” 

When asked what constitutes “looking their best,” Kelley added, “that’s up to the individual,” which seems to be in direct contradiction to having a dress code.

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.