It’s lunchtime on a recent weekday at a new East Side eatery, Opal N Blue’s by Chef Jah, and the lone employee, Chef Jah Kenya Seals, is rushing from station to station in his open kitchen, preparing for the orders.
“This has been a blessing,” he said. “I learned a long time ago you just have to keep pushing. Each one of us has gifts in the world and we have to give them away.”
One by one, cars pull up to the front of his place, on a four-lane stretch of East 27th Street.
It’s a carryout-only operation. He serves breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays — pancakes, waffles, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, eggs and breakfast sandwiches.
Lunch and dinner are offered from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Then he reopens from midnight to 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The menu includes wings, vegan burgers, catfish nuggets, K.C. Philly (steak, chicken or vegan with a barbecue twist), Alicia D Po Boy with fried oyster mushrooms, gumbo, and a house salad with corn, beans, spinach, lettuce and a house vinaigrette.
Daily specials: Taco Tuesday, Wings Wednesday, Black Mamba Pasta Thursday and OB’s Salmon Delights Fish Friday.
The most popular items so far are the vegan po’boy, the K.C. Philly and the pasta.
Seals played sports at F.L. Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas — with an 86-yard opening kickoff return at one football game — and considered a career in the NFL before earning a degree in marketing and finance from the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff in 1999.
He worked in sales and marketing in Jacksonville, Florida, and Memphis, Tennessee. Then he set up two job interviews in New York City.
Instead of keeping those appointments, he walked into a Greek restaurant and asked for “any job.”
“It just so happened they needed help,” he said. “I had no house, I had no apartment. But I was tired of the corporate world. I just needed a change and followed my heart. It was secretly in cooking and I had to pull it out.”
He worked at other kitchens in New York, Jacksonville and Memphis to build his skills.
“I just soaked everything up, as much as I could, but not knowing I’m going to open a restaurant or a catering operation,” he said.
The Kansas City, Kansas, native returned to the area in 2007 to spend a few days dealing with a criminal issue. Instead he spent 10 years in prison. He graduated from Second Chance Program, a reentry program for the formerly incarcerated specializing in employment, along with transportation, financial education, and other areas of risk reduction.
He has since worked at Southside Bar & Grille, McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood & Steaks, P Moore & Moore BBQ, Nick & Jake’s and Black Dirt.
“It is a high (turnover), and they would say, everyone is replaceable,” he said. “When you put so much work in and time in and they can say you are replaceable, it doesn’t sit well. I believe in myself.”
He started Emperor Delights Hospitality & Consulting by Chef Jah in 2019, a catering operation and restaurant consulting company. He also planned to open either a food truck or brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“But I wanted a place where they could come and find food that was really good and healthy instead of having to drive around and find me,” he said.
Opal N Blue’s by Chef Jah opened May 9, his 45th birthday, at 3202 E. 27th St. The late Clarence “Blue” Scroggins and his wife, Opal, were Seals’ maternal grandparents.
“When it comes to food it was hands-down my grandmother. At 4 in the morning you could stop by her house and she was cooking,” he said. “And she was into growing fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs. She had it all.”
He calls the kitchen the heart of the restaurant.
“That that would be Grandma, and the spirit of the house is Blue,” Seals said. “He was just really kind and the community loved him.”