To understand what Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken is and what they are about, we have to go back almost 50 years ago, to 1977 to be exact, when Vincent Williams or better known as Vinny, started in the chicken business at only 17-years-old.
“I was one of those stories, [where] you started in the basement of a company [and worked your way up], a friend of mine told me about a graveyard shift job at the Golden Bird in Los Angeles, I had no idea where it was going, the only thing I knew I was going to college in Pasadena and I needed a job. We would process the chicken in the middle of the night, and you wouldn’t have thought anything would have happened from that job, I saw this guy walk into the business and said, ‘God I wanna be like him one day,’” Williams said.
The man Williams mentions is Willie J. Stennis, the owner of the Golden Bird, Williams compares Stennis to a contemporary Colonel Sanders. Stennis had owned family restaurants over the past three decades, when they met, he was independently wealthy and successful. He quickly became Williams’ mentor, his boss, and the second-best man in the chicken business.
“I just listened to everything he would tell me, he would tell me stories, for example, he said whatever job you should be the best at that job you can be, he said when he was in Mississippi, he used to pick cotton, lowest of the low jobs, but he took pride that he was the best cotton picker,” Williams said.
When Stennis first met Williams, as he was the warehouse manager in Culver City, Stennis told him he had a critical job, and all William said was, ‘I’ll do whatever is necessary to finish the job.’ Williams believes that was the moment everything just clicked and that was essentially when the torch of the business was given to him from Stennis.
In 1983, Williams was allowed to know the first franchise — he was going to be their guinea pig, but that didn’t scare him he was driven, he had a young family to motive him and this was a dream for him to be in this business. Williams worked for 18 straight years of strong labor and after the passing of Stennis, there was some financial trouble and the family sold the name in 1993. Shortly after Williams decided to resign from the Golden Bird and took about 10 months to set benchmarks for himself.
“One of them was that I wanted to make the most All-American restaurant of all time — past, present, and future. I wanted to take to create a restaurant that took people back to the experience of early America by calling it Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken,” Williams said.
1999 was a very important year for Williams, he started his test kitchen in his old franchise location in Compton, California — it was a desolated area, a no mans land and it reminded Williams of a type of garage experience, such as how companies like Microsoft were born in a garage. He felt as if it was his laboratory where he could create this amazing product, he went through so many tests because he knew that quality was what have him survive this business.
“My whole plan was to shock the world and do something phenomenal because I had so much experience in the business. I was never satisfied I always pushed myself harder to make a greater product. So, when everyone was talking about Y2K, the Y2K happened to be the birth of Honey’s Kettle in 2000,” Williams said.
I was lucky enough to visit the only location in downtown Culver City, a restaurant that had been standing there for the past 15 years. Honey’s Kettle is a small humble restaurant, it truly gives the customer an All-American feel as soon as you walk in and not to mention the smell of the chicken that hits your nose.
The All-American family feel comes from the decor that Williams chose for the restaurant, there are copper and wood throughout it and a huge empty old fashion fireplace with a kettle inside displayed in the main window. Around the fireplace are pictures displayed of past baseball players, trophies, and others momentos. The restaurant reminds of where you’d take your family on a beautiful Sunday afternoon after your kid’s sporting event to celebrate the win.
When it came to the menu, Williams planned out that each menu item very carefully, each item had gone through a series of tests, retests, and more tests. As the years went on, Williams never stopped making recipes better, he’ll circle back all the time because he doesn’t just want a menu with a bunch of items thrown on it. When it comes when to decide on what to order, Williams mentions it depends on what you have a taste for.
“If you have a taste for a sandwich, you’ll find no sandwich like ours, if you have a taste for hotcakes, I don’t think you’ll find a better one than what we have. So, if you have a taste for the particular item you won’t find another place that serves something close to it. That’s how the menu was planned,” he said.
On my menu: Ice Shaker cool blueberry mint lemonade and the Premium Kettle Chicken Sandwich combo with fries.
Ice Shaker Cool Blueberry Mint Lemonade
This drink is the perfect summertime drink, in every sip, you can taste the sweetness, the fresh crushed blueberries, and mint all at once. If you love lemonade and fruit — this is a drink you must try.
The Premium Kettle Chicken Sandwich with Fries
I love chicken sandwiches, so naturally, I had to try Honey’s Kettle’s chicken sandwich. This isn’t your average sandwich — the chicken was bigger than the sandwich, it was fresh, hot, and crispy. The texture of the skin was perfect and you can hear the crunch in every bite. The chicken with the buns, lettuce, tomato, and type of sweetness sauce they added, gave it a cooled mix with the heat of the chicken. The fries were a great add on, they were soft and seasoned well.
The City of Los Angeles is now allowing restaurants to be open for dine-in, Honey’s Kettle is following CDC guidelines to make sure customers feel more than safe to stay and eat at the restaurant. The staff is wearing masks, gloves, and constantly cleaning tables, and counters. If you decide to stay and eat at the restaurant, there is a great picnic patio area right in front — where you can enjoy the beautiful L.A weather.
Honey’s Kettle is a first-generation family-owned business and Williams plans on making sure it continues into the second generation.
“I always brought my kids into the business, they used to mop the floors, clean the bathrooms — they’ve always had some kind of role int the company. I’ve taken classes at USC about the information of early transition, I just don’t want to be one generation business, and most businesses going into a second crenation end up failing. I wanted to go against that popular attitude by bringing in my kids early and I recently offered them an ownership position and that made a difference,” Williams said.
After celebrating 15 years in Culver City, the Williams’ are calling their expansion of Honey’s Kettle Fried Kitchen, Honey’s Kettle 2.0 and a lot of great things are going to happen for them. This summer they are going to find a way to drop honey all around Los Angeles — Honey’s Drop is expecting to open early July and early August, one will be near USC and one in Hollywood.
Williams says being a Black family-owned business is super fanatic and very powerful because his people have gone through so much suffering from the grit food that landed in America to even today. He mentions how suffering is like a two-sided coin, as bad as you suffer on one side, if you can flip that coin over — glorious things can happen.
“People [may] have had different expectations of us, maybe they lowered the exceptions of us, maybe they lowered it, but what we try to do as a family is we try to send the bar real high. And then we try to put up even higher after that. We don’t have any problems with the idea of being a Black family-owned business, I kind of prefer not to use that term only because it kind of tight cased you, most people think a Black-owned restaurant as soul food, but we go against that, we are not a soul food restaurant. We are truly an all American restaurant that we can be,” he said.
When Williams had this dream to open up Honey’s Kettle, some people who thought were his friends, supports and more started to treat him differently.
“It was the usual stuff: changing rules in the middle of the game, saying one thing and doing another, I don’t know what happened to them, they started as my friend, supporter and I think in the middle of the night, they work up and said, ‘this kind of land is only preserved for our kind — what in the world are we doing letting a Black man open a fried chicken restaurant int he middle of downtown Culver City?’”
Williams never let that end his dream, he wanted to prove something, he was going to make a world-class restaurant — a restaurant that signs would be displayed in a museum hundreds of years from now. A place for people to remember if you ate the food and saw the demographics that come into this Honey’s Kettle, from rich to poor and everyone in-between, he’d accomplish that goal because of adversity.
“Adversity is the mother of all inventions, it’s in the eye of the storm that people come up with ideas, so, so you know, it was the usual stuff, it wasn’t over discrimination but, there was some stuff in there and I don’t want to name names, but they know who they are and they said some things they shouldn’t have, but I’m a forgiving man and it’s okay I’m still here and that’s the main thing,” he explains.
Williams have had people look at him differently when they find out the restaurant is Black-owned as if they are shocked.
“I say, what did you expect? And they can’t even answer. Handwritten signs with lines on the paper? Misspelled words? Were you expecting chairs and tables from thrifty? Why is it that we can’t do the same thing that other corporations do?” He said.
As the Black Lives Matter movement that has been taking over the world, creating change and making history — there has been a lot of emotions, especially to Black-owned businesses.
“We are saddened of another example of police brutality we’re afforded, everyone is afforded, even when you do a crime, everyone should be read their Miranda Rights, we don’t just wholesale and give summary judgments in society. If a man gets in some trouble, he still has a right to be processed, and his [George Floyd] was taken away from him. I think there’s going to be a lot of healing from this — a lot of change is going to happen from this. He has become a very ordinary man, who is going to have an extraordinary place in history. He’s gonna be like your Rosa Parks when you look back on it, this was a moment in American history where people began to look at these things and they say to themselves: every officer is going to hesitate the next time, peaceful protests are apart of the constitution, it’s how the democrat works. We [Honey’s Kettle] are not in support of a criminal activity, a lot of people got hurt from that, it was the situation where the police were overwhelmed and people began to vandalize and do arson — which took away from the peaceful protests,” Williams said.
As the movement continues to get stronger, people are creating lists throughout social media of Black-owned businesses for people to start supporting more.
“Truly wonderful things have happened, and it shows the true nature of Americans, that a lot of people want to support Black businesses and a lot of people found out that Honey’s Kettle is a Black business. But, then again, I don’t like to say Black businesses, we just happen to be Black. The thing is, we aren’t looking for symphony purchases, we want to earn your business because we’re going to give you a fantastic meal — one that’s memorial,” he said.
As June 19th approaches this week, or better known as Juneteenth, Honey’s Kettle has something special coming on the menu. Williams is going to reach into his vault and create a fried chicken watermelon salad, along with some plain watermelon, and some fun drinks to a cherry melon drink, and a strawberry soda pop. Williams knows how all these sounds stereotypes, but he knows it’s great food and everyone loves watermelon.
Williams mentioned how Stennis is the second greatest man in the chicken business, so if he’s second, then I think Vincent Williams is the first greatest man in the chicken business.
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