Jayaun Smith spent his free time as a kid watching “Iron Chef America” and creating his own unique recipes with what was available, he shared — noting it didn’t take him long to fall in love with cooking.
“I spent a lot of time alone growing up,” recalled the 25-year-old chef, who now leads the Sauced urban lunch counter in the Crossroads Arts District with business partner Steven Blakley. “My mom had me at 15. She stayed in high school, went to college and got her doctorate in psychology. Having her strength and seeing how she never gave up, it really taught me how to hone in on something you love.”
By the time Smith was 16, he was competing in state and national culinary competitions. After getting a taste for the art’s competitive nature, he knew he didn’t want to do anything else, he said.
Smith went on to complete the Chef Apprentice program at Johnson County Community College and at 22 become the first executive chef at Ruby Jean’s Kitchen and Juicery when the well-known health-focused hot spot opened in November 2017 at 30th and Troost.
At about that same time, Blakley reached out to Smith with his new food concept, UHUNGRY?
“We met back in 2017,” 26-year-old Blakley recalled. “My original idea was for UHUNGRY? to be an application, and then we just started creating different menu items. From there, it spurred into in-home dinners and growing Jayuan’s personal business.”
Click here to check out some other tasty creations by Chef Jayaun Smith.
Idea after idea, the duo continued to grow UHUNGRY? — expanding into pop-up brunches, a loaded fries pop-up and their two current concepts: Sauced and Just Slide.
Sauced launched in October 2020 in the Crossroads — small, yet permanent, outdoor brick-and-mortar tucked into a courtyard between the two buildings that make up Corrigan Station.
“We had been in communication with a developer, and he reached out to tell us about the space back in September,” Blakley said. “He asked if we could get something up and running by the beginning of October. We knew it was going to be a lot of work, but we decided to go for it.”
With the Sauced’s positioning off 19th and Main streets, a big piece of the business model is reaching employees who work in the Corrigan Station buildings, which notably includes anchors like WeWork, Academy Bank and Helix.
“We were a little hesitant because we didn’t know how people working from home would affect business,” Blakley said. “But through the way we branded Sauced as this new and exciting concept, it resulted in a lot of people stopping by to check out and try it.”
Sauced is open 11:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; closed Sundays.
Click here to learn more about Sauced and UHUNGRY?
The Sauced menu contains such lunch favorites as burgers, chicken sandwiches and fries — with a twist of Smith’s style, he shared.
“We knew we wanted to be efficient in the downtown area with businesses taking short lunch breaks,” Smith explained. “Our menu items allow us to crank out food fast, all while incorporating a lot of flavors and having a lot of fun with the menu.”
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At Sauced, Smith encourages their cooks to incorporate their own styles and try out new combinations, he noted.
“They all have their own recommendation, and that’s what I love,” Smith said. “So whenever you’re talking to one of us, we’re going to give you the craziest combination.”
At the moment, Smith’s chef’s kiss goes to one combination in particular: Sauced’s chicken sandwich with the chicken submerged in a sassy sauce (similar to a Washington D.C.-originated mumbo sauce), with cheese, pickles, lettuce and a little bit of ranch.
The team plans to continue incorporating new menu items, Smith said. In May, customers can anticipate a new menu item that was created specifically for a partnership with Yelp.
“It’ll be like one of those secret menu items,” he explained. “It’s a special deal where they can ask for the Yelp burger, and it’ll be $10 for the burger and fries. That will be exciting, and we’re always looking to gain more partnerships with other businesses.”
The duo’s other food venture, Just Slide, opened in February at the Iron District, an outdoor dining and retail experience set in a container courtyard in North Kansas City. Blakley described it as a sister-concept to Sauced with a focus on sliders.
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When Smith isn’t working on Sauced or Just Slide, he still enjoys being a personal chef and connecting with his clients, he shared.
“Me and my clients really become family,” Smith said. “It’s more than a business relationship. Being able to grow with your clients is more important than just the food. Anybody can work to make good food, but it’s about the experience you give.”
What’s next for UHUNGRY? Smith and Blakley are keeping details behind the counter but teased a tasty growth opportunity.
“I can say that we are looking to obtain a new space in a place that people are very familiar with,” Smith teased. “If we take it over, we are definitely going to try to break the norm and come up with — not one crazy concept — but bring two or three new concepts to this space.”
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.
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