Opening a restaurant doesn’t happen overnight; it takes planning, hours of hard work, a good team, and solid funding, said Esra England — the head chef and founder of KC Cajun.
“I knew opening a restaurant was a strategic move, and everything needed to be calculated,” explained England, who increased his business’ sales by 500 percent from 2018 to 2019.
England founded KC Cajun in 2016 as a catering company, then later added a food truck in 2018. With the business growing exponentially in a short period of time, England knew he and his team were ready to take the leap into a storefront on Kansas City’s east side.
“Last year, we were geared to do a quarter of a million in sales, but of course COVID derailed that a little bit,” England said. “But we’re getting back on track.”
KC Cajun’s brick-and-mortar space is expected to open in May on East 27th St., he said.
Click here to check out KC Cajun’s menu.
Kansas City-based nonprofit Generating Income For Tomorrow (GIFT) awarded KC Cajun a $22,000 bonus grant, which came from a surplus in donations, noted Brandon Calloway — the executive director at GIFT.
“We announce grant recipients every month,” Calloway said. “But we had a really great fundraising year, so we were in a position to give out an extra grant.”
Click here to read about how GIFT has raised over a quarter of a million dollars within less than their first year.
England — who has helped GIFT with public relations work and also applied for a grant back in November — was completely caught off guard when heard news of the funding for KC Cajun, he shared.
“It was a surreal, humbling moment for us when we found out about the award,” England said, noting that he had been struggling with acquiring grant money. “It was a good change of pace from what we were going through.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard for KC Cajun because of the unclear regulations for food trucks.
“Ultimately we ended up having to shut it down for a period of time because it was just too confusing trying to navigate all the different jurisdictions between the various counties,” England explained, referencing inconsistent COVID-19 restrictions that popped up in each community across the metro. “The other issue we ran into was — with people working from home, there wasn’t a lot of traffic out in public. So, we pivoted our business model to do more events in neighborhoods and outside of apartment buildings.”
The Mississippi native’s passion to bring Cajun food to the Midwest stems from his childhood, he shared.
“My dad was a chef in the Navy; so as a youngster, I experienced a coastal lifestyle — going out on fishing trips, crabbing and just living off the sea,” England recalled. “That was an instrumental part of me growing up; so when I moved to the Midwest, I really missed Cajun food.”
KC Cajun is about putting a Midwest twist on traditional Cajun recipes, England noted.
“And it’s not just about the food,” England noted. “We really try to bring the Cajun history and culture to our customers.”
The food truck’s next event is set for 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at Calibration Brewery in North Kansas City.
Inner city investing
A common misconception of business owners: if they fail, it’s because they needed a better business model or accounting assistance, Calloway noted.
“Esra [England] is a great example of someone who is an exceptional business person; he is completely structured, and that showed in his growth and success,” Calloway explained. “So that whole narrative of providing technical assistance wouldn’t have helped him.
“[GIFT] makes intentional, financial investments in the urban core,” he continued. “In doing that, I feel like it’s highly effective in bringing change to a whole section of our community.”
Click here to read about how GIFT helped Ruby Jean’s Juicery, which recently reopened its Whole Foods location after pandemic-related setbacks.
Along with opening a storefront, England plans for KC Cajun and the surrounding businesses to use their crafts — whether culinary, barbering or other talents — to create programming for the surrounding community.
“[My team and I are] looking to create new programs to educate and empower people to be entrepreneurs; we especially want to bring that message to the youth,” England noted. “We hope to partner with the businesses surrounding us for a collaborative effort on these programs.”
England hopes such an effort creates more job opportunities and shines a light on entrepreneurship, he said — noting untapped potential in the community ready to be unlocked.
“People are starting to build more on the east side, but right now, it’s really up until [you get to] Troost,” England said. “[KC Cajun is] more centrally located on the east side of Kansas City, so we feel there’s a need to create awareness on what’s going on in this area. Then, others will be more likely to invest in it.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.