…Being in the restaurant business is extremely challenging, and burnout can happen easily. I’ve been through so many waves of it over the past 40 years. I find that what helps me pull through those moments is to continue to find new ways to love my business. In moments of high stress and uncertainty, I like to take a moment and sit in my restaurant’s dining room at the bar and watch people enjoy what I created. From this vantage point, I am immediately reminded of the reason for creating this business in the first place. Not only that, but I can also take those necessary moments to find ways of improvement that will ultimately prevent potential burnout in the long haul.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational BIPOC Chefs & Restaurateurs, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Vincent Williams.
Vincent Williams, founder and owner of Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken, has dedicated his life to perfecting his scratchmade, farm-fresh fried chicken. A serial entrepreneur and a businessman at heart, Vincent began working night shifts at an iconic fried chicken restaurant in Compton, CA called Golden Bird while attending college in 1973. What started out as a “dead-end job to put money in his pocket” sparked a life-long passion for fried chicken. When offered a franchise opportunity with the company, he eagerly accepted. Despite a challenging location and a lack of profitability, the experience strengthened his grit and determination to build a successful business and gave him the time and means to hone his own style of kettle-fried chicken. After founding Honey’s Kettle in Compton in 2000, Vincent opened its current location in downtown Culver City in 2005. Despite adversity including a mixed reception from the community and an equipment fire that broke out just four months after opening, Vincent persevered, determined to bring his fresh fried chicken to Main Street America. Celebrating the restaurant’s 20-year anniversary in June 2020, Vincent moved the Honey’s Kettle brand into the next phase with the launch of Honey Drop Kitchen — delivery only outposts expanding the restaurant’s reach to cover all of Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?
Without getting too philosophical, I seized upon opportunities as they presented themselves. “When opportunity knocks…open the door.” I had a dead-end job working the graveyard shift, processing raw chicken. My boss owned a chain of restaurants and I eventually became a true “company man” and his understudy. I said to myself, “I want to be like him,” and ironically enough — today I am him.
Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?
My specialty is kettle-fried chicken. In all the years (47 now), I have learned just about everything about how to make fantastic fried chicken — flavor, texture, and all of that. My first boss truly inspired my journey in the fried chicken business, and I fell in love with the craft thereafter. I began studying everything there was to know about how to create a product and a world-class business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Adversity is the mother of all invention.” I am no stranger to facing challenges in starting my business and laboring to get it to what it has become today. In fact, I can look at my current circumstances, of being in the midst of a global pandemic, and reinventing parts of my business to function as a delivery-only concept.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
It’s probably a little more interesting than funny. When you start as I did with zero capital, you’re always chasing your tail. I met a homeless man, which I later called The Leprechaun. This man never spent a dime; and whenever he got money — he converted it into 100 dollar bills. He started collecting them while he lived on the streets. I had borrowed up to thousands of dollars from The Leprechaun, in which I eventually paid back. The lesson I learned from that was sometimes you have to do what it takes (as unique as some circumstances can be) to fight for your business. Another lesson I learned was that you can’t judge people.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?
One week into ownership, I went on my honeymoon and almost lost my business. We ran into serious financial dues, and I didn’t know how we would get out of it. I didn’t know that one month into this journey it could potentially end so quickly, but I didn’t know how to quit. I created the illusion of success. When the desert was dry, I looked out and saw a mirage — when I got there it was just more hot sand. I created hope when no hope was to be found, and I believed so hard in the dream of business. As the years started to turn into decades, I realized I was avoiding failure by pure determination and passion.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
The key I always tell my staff is food must first be beautiful to the eyes. Seldom does something look fantastic and taste awful. I believe in color, variety, shape, and size. And I believe we are to marry taste with nutrition. Flavor is created in layers, independent of one another, but when they are married together — it makes for an amazing dish.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
A perfect meal doesn’t just taste good, it satisfies something deep in the human soul. It comforts us and makes us feel good. The taste lingers on the tongue for a moment in time, and you don’t want it to end as you take each bite. Enjoying our kettle-fried chicken breast with hot potatoes that are seasoned to perfection, paired with our signature sweet and tangy coleslaw is a good time for me. Oh, and our warm sweet potato pie with an ice-cold milk!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
Our flagship restaurant has officially spun off two new babies! We have introduced two new delivery-only locations across Los Angeles that cover areas like Downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, East LA, Inglewood, near the Valley, and beyond. Opening these CloudKitchens has had a great impact on our business with relatively low investment — one being that we’re expanding our brand’s reach. My family and I call this new edition, Honey’s Kettle 2.0, where my professional adult children have taken a stake in the company’s growth.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Being in the restaurant business is extremely challenging, and burnout can happen easily. I’ve been through so many waves of it over the past 40 years. I find that what helps me pull through those moments is to continue to find new ways to love my business. In moments of high stress and uncertainty, I like to take a moment and sit in my restaurant’s dining room at the bar and watch people enjoy what I created. From this vantage point, I am immediately reminded of the reason for creating this business in the first place. Not only that, but I can also take those necessary moments to find ways of improvement that will ultimately prevent potential burnout in the long haul.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Food is perhaps the greatest product you can offer to people, and the quality is perhaps your number one asset. I never stop looking for ways to make the product better. Everything has to be treated this way. Continue to learn your craft and build upon that. Always challenge yourself to go beyond what just tastes good, but rather push for giving people that extra thing that keeps them coming back.
COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?
COVID-19 is an enemy of the people and has disrupted many lives. I have used this global tragedy to learn; to evolve. I ask myself through all of these trying times: What can I learn? What is wrong about the way I’ve been doing business? How can I be even stronger than the worst thing that could ever happen in my business life? This new expansion of Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken is our way of adapting to this new way of life.
Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- I wish there was a way to have balanced ambition with the hard realities of business. I was so ambitious when I opened our Culver City location and thought, ‘Ahh I’ve made it!” And no soon as I opened the restaurant, we had an enormous fire that shut us down for months. I was devastated and had to face the reality that business isn’t a cakewalk.
- I wish I listened to what people said about hard work, sacrifice, long hours, the need for capital, good records, and good credit. I had heard all of that but didn’t have the life experience to quite understand what that meant.
- I learned the importance of having a strong support system around you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to lean on family and friends to help me through this journey.
- That being a business owner truly means your business sometimes comes before everything in your life, including yourself at times. I can’t tell you how many failed vacations or important moments I’ve had to skip out on, but through it all, the pleasure of seeing what you have built is just priceless.
- Never stop learning and evolving your craft. It’s no one size fits all type of mentality with business. You will have to continue to adapt and introduce new things to your business.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
The 3.1 — Blueberry Hotcakes and a Fried Chicken Breast. We serve it with melted butter and real maple syrup. It’s seriously good!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Greatness is in all of us, and I want people to know that. Whether you have a single talent or multiple, it is our mission in life to discover who we are and what we’re capable of. Once we get a hint, we must reach deep down inside through passion and desire to bring it out. Our purpose is to take all the pain and suffering we may have been through in our respective lives and ‘flip the script,’ for on the other side is glory!
How can our readers further follow you online?
Visit our website www.honeyskettle.com, follow us on Instagram and Twitter @honeyskettle, and on Facebook at facebook.com/honeyskettlefriedchicken.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!