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Gator, shrimp po’boys made to order, but Chef Esra has more than sandwiches plated for KC’s East Side

DATE POSTED:May 6, 2022

Opening a restaurant is just one phase of Esra England’s vision for Kansas City’s East Side.

“I’m looking at a restaurant as an anchor point. Once you have a restaurant in the area, the community will be able to do different things like host meetings or classes — and hopefully, other businesses will start to pop up,” said England, head chef and founder of KC Cajun.

Chef Esra England, KC Cajun

Chef Esra England, KC Cajun

KC Cajun — which England started as a catering company in 2016 and grew into a food truck in 2018 — opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant Tuesday on East 27th. St. 

The customer response so far has been overwhelming, England shared. 

“We’ve had nothing but positive outreach and feedback from the community,” he said. “It’s been kind of surprising but wonderful. I think because there has been a void of Black-owned businesses and restaurants in that area, the community has been very excited and supportive.”

KC Cajun’s brick-and-mortar provides the community with a consistent location where people can enjoy authentic Cajun food, England said, noting the pain point of having to market where his food truck was located on a daily basis. He has also been able to expand KC Cajun’s menu.

“We have some great new dishes that we are excited for people to try,” England said. “We just added an alligator po’boy, so if you’ve never had alligator before, this is your chance to try it!”

Click here to check out the menu at KC Cajun.

A physical space allows England to show off his Mississippi roots and Mardi Gras pride, he said. 

“We wanted people to walk in and get a Louisiana-crab-shack feeling, so we’ve got a lot of pictures and fishing items,” he explained. “… When we first created KC Cajun, the whole concept was bringing New Orleans traditions to Kansas City. That was six years ago. Now we can finally invite people where they’re going to experience the sounds, smells and tastes of New Orleans, as if they were right in the French Quarter.”

England envisions spreading Louisiana culture and history throughout the community — in hopes to spark an annual Mardi Gras parade in the neighborhood, he shared. 

As the weather gets warmer, England plans to revamp the exterior of his building, adding patio tables for outdoor seating and working on some landscaping for a possible garden. 

“Ultimately, we want to be as sustainable as we can,” he noted. “I see that as building a garden where we can grow our own produce, and then we’ve been working with KC Compost. We’d like to get some type of community composting over in that area.”

The grand opening of KC Cajun comes after a roller coaster of highs and lows for England, he candidly noted. With the pandemic hitting hard for small businesses and especially food trucks, England was not able to hit his original profit goals. 

But one surprise blessing: a $22,000 grant from Generating Income For Tomorrow (G.I.F.T.).

Click here to read more about how the pandemic affected Esra England and the G.I.F.T. grant he was awarded.

Click here to read more about G.I.F.T.’s new business center on the East Side. 

KC Cajun

The funds proved to be crucial, as England ran into several zoning issues after securing his brick and mortar location, he recalled.

“With a restaurant, there’s so many things outside of cooking that you have to worry about,” he said. “For me, we ended up having to spend a lot more money than planned in order to get things rezoned. We had to go down to City Hall to file permits, and we found it ended up being a really tedious process.”

A lack of communication within several city offices forced England and his team to have to navigate between each department, he said, causing a longer and more stressful process than need be. To support other businesses opening up in the East Side neighborhoods, where buildings have been sitting vacant for several decades, there needs to be a more streamlined process, he continued.

Cleared with all the correct permits, England is proud to finally share his food with his community on a regular basis, he said. KC Cajun is open 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, and 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays for those who want to grab a late night bite.

Click here to check out where to find the KC Cajun food truck.

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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