For attorney and restaurateur Kevin Kelley, opening a new restaurant amidst COVID19 was challenging nonetheless — but in the grand scheme of things and in his world, it’s just business. Lounging back cool, calm and collected in his Downtown office, the namesake of the Kelley Law Firm is visibly busy — juggling text after text, managing the firm (which resides on the top two floors of the building), and casually dipping in and out of his latest success, True Kitchen and Kocktails, which occupies the first floor of the building on Elm Street that he owns.
Adorning the walls of his firm are quotes from hip-hop greats — presumably for motivation, as luxury fixtures of marble and contemporary art surround the space. We sat down with the 17-year civil litigator to snag the scoop on one of Dallas’ hottest new restaurants True Kitchen and Kocktails, and to peek into the man behind the concept. If anything is more apparent, it’s that Kevin Kelley is only just beginning — and as for the future post-Covid, the best is yet to come.
Inspire N Style: From attorney to restaurateur, wow! How did you get into the restaurant business?
Kevin Kelley: “I made an investment in Houston in a restaurant called Taste Bar and Kitchen, and so I bought 50% ownership interest in it and I saw how good it was for the community of Houston – so I wanted to bring something to Dallas that was a little more refined and better than the concept of Taste, so this is where the concept of True Kitchen and Kocktails came from.”
What makes True Kitchen unique? What is its overall concept?
“It’s a comfort food concept, but we want it to be a sexy brand also. Every time you come to True Kitchen and Kocktails, you’re always going to see the marble when you walk in, and you’re always going to see our asset lounge, which is our mezzanine level that has glass railings there – you’re going to see a lot of instagrammable things in the restaurant as well. We try to do what we can to define comfort food but served in a sexy building with a nice vibe.”
In the wake of the latest Black Lives Matter movement, there has been a surge of support for black-owned businesses. Would you say that that has helped with the buzz for True Kitchen?
“It definitely hasn’t hurt. I think a lot of the reason we’ve had buzz was because our advertising team has done a phenomenal job – and also our kitchen – they’re the star. We have a team that makes sure that the food not only comes out tasting good but looks good also. People in Dallas are hungry for a concept that is for us and by us, but when we walk into the place, we can feel good about where we’re eating at and feel safe. We’re in prime real estate in Downtown Dallas, and I just think that this is long overdue.”
From what we’ve heard, the most popular dishes are the lamb chops, fried chicken, and cocktails such as the peach Dusse’ Froze’ and the True Flame (which catches on fire). What was your inspiration behind the menu?
“That was a process that took searching across the country for the best chicken and waffle concepts – to figure out what we think would work in Dallas. I’m from Dallas so I’ve seen foods that have worked for me and have made me and my family happy, but I wanted them to be presented in a better way. So that meant traveling to the East Coast…Miami and other places…and my time living in Barcelona and in Paris, I had a chance to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world. I wanted to bring some of those elements to True. So while we’re Southern focused, we’re internationally inspired as well.”
What made you decide to move forward in opening True Kitchen during COVID19, while so many businesses were unsure of survival?
“We don’t have any fear when we do business. We work hard, we come up with a plan and we push forward with our plan. We began construction of this space before COVID came around but our plan was so solid that we believed that we would have success regardless. Even beyond our plan, we’ve been committed to doing our role to support people during these times – so our motivation was knowing that when we open this restaurant, we’re going to be able to employ 60 people that look like us. So that motivation and that thought [process] forced us to not be deterred.”
What’s in the future for True Kitchen? It’s a dining spot not only for residents, but for those coming in from out of town. What’s next?
“We’ve got a lot of growth opportunities. We haven’t rolled out our to-go food options yet and we have yet to roll out our catering which we plan to do before the holidays – we’re not at 100% capacity and we’re booked out for the next six weeks. The city of Dallas has been very good to us. We’ve been successful because there’s a lot of good people in Dallas who support.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“I think True is uniquely positioning me because hopefully I’m a model for other people where they can look at me and say, ‘You know what? This man is the first black man to own a building in Downtown Dallas – this man owns it and I can do it too.’ I want them to see me and see that I have the same skin color and background as them and hopefully it will encourage another generation of entrepreneurs.”
Kevin Kelley would also like to thank his core team for making True and all of his other endeavors a success including : Chris Petree, Aaron Brown, Michael Ashton, Jose Lopez, Cameron Pate, Patricia Morgan and many others.
Photography Credit: Cameron Pate