Kitchen 216

Kitchen 216 Emrys Young

Kitchen 216 owner Emrys Young.

The newest restaurant on Lark Street: Kitchen 216.

The modern soul food spot is currently in a soft-open phase. It's grand opening is set for April 12.

Here are a few bits with the owner about what's in store, her take on modern soul food, and the remarkable DIY approach that got her to this point.

In the kitchen -- at home

Emrys Young is the owner of Kitchen 216 and the story about leading up to opening the new restaurant is kind of amazing.

Young grew up in Albany, moved away to Florida for a handful of years as a teen, and then returned as a young adult. Along the way, she picked up all sorts of food influences -- soul food from her grandmother, Jamaican from her step father's family, and other flavors from travel. She's totally self-taught, filling in the gaps by learning things online.

"So I am not formally trained but I consider myself well taught," she said this week while sitting on a stool in the cozy restaurant space.

And it was that mix of accumulated food knowledge and the internet that set her on this path, starting in her home kitchen in Albany.

"I was posting pictures of things I would cook my husband," she said, "and they would get thousands of likes [on Facebook and Instagram]. And then people would always be like 'I'll pay you for it, I'll pay you for it.'"

So Young went with it, and started cooking meals for other people out of her home kitchen. Word spread online, and she started picking up business in a very direct, interpersonal way. She said it was like she was people's aunt -- and they didn't hold back.

"I feel like that sharpens you. People, especially in this community, people are... they are truthful," she said with a laugh. "They will let you know."

After about two years she said she was shipping cakes for holidays, cooking for people's events, and there were days she was turning out 30 meals from her home.

"A few people started realizing where I lived and then there would be like lines of cars outside my home waiting for the food. To the point that my neighbors were complaining and they were wondering what's going on. And I couldn't really say oh, well, I'm selling food because it wasn't supposed to be that. It kind of just turned into that. And then I realized, like, wait a minute we can't really be doing this. We really need to get a restaurant space."

"A few people started realizing where I lived and then there would be like lines of cars outside my home waiting for the food," she said, remembering those days. "To the point that my neighbors were complaining and they were wondering what's going on. And I couldn't really say oh, well, I'm selling food because it wasn't supposed to be that. It kind of just turned into that. And then I realized, like, wait a minute we can't really be doing this. We really need to get a restaurant space."

So she and her husband Wasiim started looking for a space they could afford and found one -- in Coxsackie. Young said that spot didn't end up being a great fit, but they were able to make it -- running a place called the Mac & Cheese Factory -- for about year, mostly thanks to customers who made the drive down from Albany, Schenectady, and Troy.

Then life took some turns. They had a baby, and Wasiim finally got approved for a back surgery he'd been waiting on. And they decided it was time to close up and think about moving back to Albany.

Modern soul food

Kitchen 216 exterior 2018-03-22

That return landed them at this spot at 216 Lark, near State Street, a space that's been home to a series of restaurants -- including Hot Dog Heaven for many years.

The concept for the new restaurant -- modern soul food -- is Young's bid to add a healthier spin on a classic cuisine.

"I feel like we're everything you love about soul food, all of its bold flavoring, all of its cultural roots without the stuff that'll kill you," she said.

So her offerings do include staples such as chicken and waffles, greens, yams, and macaroni and cheese. But it relies on lots of herbs and spices instead of a lot a salt. There's no pork, but there are vegetarian and vegan options. (Young herself is a vegetarian.)

Young acknowledged that might strike some people as a little different from what they have in mind when they think "soul food." But she sees it an a natural evolution.

"[Soul food] originally comes from black people, you know. And black people, if I say so myself, we are very creative people. We are creative and progressive. Soul food really started, if we want to be honest, it started during slavery. They started with the scraps of what they were given. So they were able to take those things and make something beautiful out of it."

"[Soul food] originally comes from black people, you know. And black people, if I say so myself, we are very creative people," she said. "We are creative and progressive. Soul food really started, if we want to be honest, it started during slavery. They started with the scraps of what they were given. So they were able to take those things and make something beautiful out of it. The downside of that is a lot of those foods, because they were the scraps of what other people weren't willing to eat, they weren't good for you, they weren't heart healthy. There wasn't really putting much into their cups, you know. So we took out some of those things, then we replaced them with things that keep you going rather than slow you down."

And her concept of soul food also folds in her own specific family experiences, such as the influence from her step father's Jamaican family.

"We have a jerk chicken chicken taco. And we have a jerk chicken salad and they'll be like, 'Oh jerk, isn't that kind of Jamaican?' OK, well, there's a little Jamaican in my soul."

Soft opening and grand opening

Kitchen 216 is currently in a soft opening phase, so this weekend -- March 23-25 -- it will be open from 3-11 pm for dinner service. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for details.

The grand opening is set for April 12. After that, it'll be open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner service, and Saturday and Sunday for brunch.

(Thanks, Jason!)

Find It

Kitchen 216
216 Lark Street
Albany, NY 12210

Comments

So great to have a soul food place with vegetarian or vegan options. And that the chef herself is vegetarian means she knows what she's doing. Can't wait to try it.

Ecstatic to have another choice for lower sodium dining! Now I can eat at Trinbago and here! Anybody else know of other local restaurants who can hold the sodium?

There food at the Macaroni & Cheese Factory was outstanding. Can't wait to go to Kitchen 216 this weekend.

Woot!

Welcome to Lark Albany. I cant Waite to see the menu. Best wishes.

I called this restaurant yesterday after Telly my friend and my god kids about, hyped the joint up!! Spoke to a lady who told me that they were going to be open from 6pm-2am, ok so we waited until 6:30 to call and place an order. The phone was busy, so I told my godson that he would have to pick up the 5 orders, he goes there and the place is closed!! Who does business like this? Thanks Kitchen 216 for your service. sMH.

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