LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 23: DJ Khaled poses for a portrait during the BET Awards 2019 at … [+] Microsoft Theater on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
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The Windy City is no stranger to celebrity-endorsed restaurants, and DJ Khaled's "The Licking" has officially entered the fray. It's been a week and so far? Lines are still out the door.
The soul food franchise – the nation's sixth – recently opened on the city's far West Side, bringing "authentic Miami style food" to the neighborhood of Austin in the City of Big Shoulders. The menu is "traditional" Southern Florida with a traditional Southern edge, with foods ranging from fried conch and collard greens to lobster tails and wings dipped in The Licking sauce. (And yes, the licking refers to licking the sauce off your fingers.) There is also red velvet cake, red velvet chicken and waffles and a "famous mystery drink."
A lobster dish at The Licking in Chicago
Khaled is the brand ambassador and co-owner. Elric "E-Class" Prince, also the CEO/Founder of Poe Boy Records is a company founder. (Amongst other stars, Poe Boy Records signed Flo Rida.) Per Florida business records, the other owner is Latosia Colvin. When the group opened another The Licking in Miami Gardens, that location became so popular it spawned several news articles as well as a reported visit from Kanye West.
At the time, Prince told the Miami Herald that he plans to grow as big as Red Lobster.
"A lot of people won’t understand the movement of what’s about to come,” Prince said to the paper. “We’re trying to be the next Red Lobster, the next Chili’s, the next Outback [Steakhouse].”
The Licking opens in Austin, on Chicago's far west side.
In Chicago, the owners are discussing plans to hire at least 20 local community members to work in the restaurant. This is a boon to an area that has seen jobs move closer to the downtown area of the city as gentrification draws businesses – and higher paying jobs – in to the city center.
The Chicago location is the brand's first outside of Florida. And with a mandate to provide local jobs and good food to areas that sometimes lack healthy food choices – or are food deserts – locals are packing the restaurant. At press time, the lines were out the door. Prices also run the gamut from lobster dinner ($22.99) and filet mignon ($29.99) to the chicken wing sampler ($12.99) and shrimp croissant sandwich ($10.99).
And celebrities tend to like celebrities, so it's no surprise that Flo Rida showed up to buy a dinner, as did local rapper Dreezy. G Herbo reportedly has visited as well. Also, it should be noted that rapper Saba grew up in Austin, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner went to elementary school in Austin and actor Wood Harris grew up there too.
When Khaled first started the franchise, he did it to "give under-served African-American communities a quality spot to eat near their homes.” The neighborhood of Austin is no stranger to soul food joints, but The Licking ups the ante – and increases the options – with its unique South Florida flavor and by offering items either grilled or fried. Midwest specialties are in the house, but so is the conch and lobster.
As far as next steps, the owners say they haven't determined the next city that will host the franchise.