By Ebony JJ Curry | Michigan Chronicle | Special to the OBSERVER
Kevin “KJ” Johnson, former NBA All-Star, Sacramento mayor, and now an accomplished restaurateur, is set to transport his soul food enterprise to the heart and soul of downtown Detroit.
In the heart of Detroit’s history-soaked Paradise Valley, where jazz once echoed through bustling streets and entrepreneurship thrived in the very marrow of the community, a soulful revolution is cooking. Fixins Soul Kitchen, more than a restaurant, is stepping into Detroit’s culinary and cultural stage to rekindle a spirit long cherished but briefly lost. Just as soul food conjures comfort through the fusion of flavors, Fixins Soul Kitchen seeks to heal and inspire a community by invoking memories of a prosperous past while stirring the pot of future possibilities.
Wednesday afternoon Fixins Soul Kitchen announced its newest location in Detroit’s Paradise Valley, at 1435 Randolph St., an area once booming with business and entertainment from the 1920s through the 1950s. A neighborhood that rang with the sounds of economic promise and cultural triumph is on the horizon of greatness once again.
The ceremony kicked off with celebratory remarks, commending the power of small businesses and investing in our communities. Speakers praised Kevin as a source of inspiration as a politician, an activist, and now a small business owner. During the ceremony, Hill Harper stated, “When I think about the power of small businesses and communities, this (Fixins) is exactly what we need.” Anglea Yee also said, “It’s wonderful to see Kevin Johnson who’s had such a successful career in the NBA and as the Mayor of Sacramento, invest in historically Black communities, such as bringing Fixins to Paradise Valley.”
Johnson, alongside his wife Michelle, founded Fixins in 2019. The restaurant beautifully marries KJ’s fondness for Black culture with Michelle’s love for food, serving family recipes KJ grew up with. From the signature chicken and waffles to deep-fried deviled eggs, the restaurant celebrates African American culinary tradition while adding its distinct modern twist. It draws its name from the mouthwatering sides that go along with the main dishes, like those good ol’ collard greens, sweet candied yams, and baked macaroni and cheese. It’s all about the wholesome food that fills your belly and soothes your soul. In addition, spirits will be served as well. But what’s really special is they’re getting these drinks from businesses owned by our own people, our Black brothers and sisters, in a genuine show of community support and unity.
Johnson’s Detroit location will be the fourth Fixins restaurant, joining locations in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., as well as Los Angeles, and Tulsa, Okla. The Tulsa location is in the area that was home to what was called Black Wall Street, holding rich historic social and economic impact for Blacks – much like Paradise Valley. Fixins Detroit, set to be an 8,400 sqft hot spot, is planning to accommodate 325 customers simultaneously. Johnson is in high hopes to open the restaurant in December 2023.
Fixins Soul Kitchen, which first warmed the hearts and plates of Sacramento, Tulsa, and Los Angeles residents, has now found a home in Detroit, symbolizing a bicoastal embrace of African American culture. While the cities offer unique landscapes, all rich with individual histories and distinct community flavors, the Fixins experience binds them together through a culinary tribute to Black heritage. In Los Angeles, Fixins captures the city’s eclectic fusion of traditions, blending soul food with the contemporary West Coast vibes, where old meets new.
Detroit’s branch, on the other hand, is a city with its own rich cultural fabric and an illustrious history, especially in Paradise Valley and Black Bottom. Although Detroit presents a different landscape – it’s a city echoing with jazz and Motown rhythms, possessing an industrious spirit born from its Motor City days – the ethos of Fixins remains the same: to honor African American traditions while creating a modern dining experience that satisfies both the stomach and the soul.
“When I think about Detroit, I had to first pay homage to the black soul food restaurants that were here before us and are still here,” said Johnson. “The reason I chose paradise valley was the rich history. Jazz, lounges restaurants and vitality. You have all of this, and it is beyond incredible. It was like the soul of Detroit right here in Paradise Valley.”
While the other cities and Detroit differ in their geographic aesthetics and cultural nuances, Fixins’ mission harmonizes perfectly with all: to create a cultural footprint that respects and celebrates the communities it inhabits. As it makes Detroit its fourth home, Fixins brings its own version of soul food that, just like soulful music, bridges divides, brings people together, and speaks to the heart. The addition of Fixins to the city represents not just the growth of a beloved restaurant, but a reinforcement of Detroit’s cultural resurgence, with the promise of unity and heritage in every bite.
Prior to settling on Paradise Valley’s historic location, Johnson explored various city spaces for potential sites, including regions like Corktown and Eastern Market, reflecting a thoughtful approach to finding the perfect culinary and cultural intersection for his restaurant.
“We found a killer space located in a historically important Black business neighborhood owned by a Black businessman whose family has deep roots in Detroit. We also know that Detroit is the only U.S. city with all four major sports teams playing in arenas and stadiums in its downtown,” Johnson expressed. “Add to that the rich history with Motown and the auto industry, and it only made sense for Detroit to be our next city.”
This initiative represents a significant undertaking, with Johnson pouring nearly $4 million into the establishment in Detroit. Tulsa’s GH2 Architects Inc. will take on the design responsibilities for the interior of the venue, which formerly housed the Detroit Seafood Market and Intermezzo. Revenue projections for the Detroit restaurant estimate a hefty sum of around $5 million annually with plans to bring in nearly 100 jobs to the city.
Being at the forefront of this resurgence is architect Rainy Hamilton Jr. of Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates architecture firm. Hamilton has been in Paradise Valley for 30 years next year making him the longest-standing tenant.
“To see all of the hustle and bustle going on and people coming back to downtown and all of the development that’s going on is incredible,” said Hamilton. “Our commitment to the city is in my heart and soul, and we are here to help design a better Detroit!”
It’s only fitting that Paradise Valley, the iconic district once bustling with African American businesses and entertainment in the mid-20th century, has been chosen to be Fixins’ new home. The Valley, together with the thriving Black residential neighborhood known as Black Bottom, served as a pulsating heart for Black enterprise and culture for three decades.
At its peak, Paradise Valley hosted more than 300 Black businesses, ranging from nightclubs to law firms. Renowned venues like the Paradise Theatre were cultural beacons, hosting legendary musicians such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. Parallelly, Black Bottom was a hub of Black homeownership, standing defiantly in the face of racial segregation policies.
However, the Urban Renewal Program in the late 1950s, and the construction of the Chrysler Freeway in the 1960s, led to the displacement and dismantling of these culturally vibrant neighborhoods. Many residents were displaced, and the district’s rich cultural heritage was threatened.
Today, Detroit is seeing a renaissance, with significant investment and restoration initiatives.
The selection of Paradise Valley as the site of Fixins’ new location isn’t just a nod to the past, but an intentional gesture towards the future.