The restaurant opened in September, and owner De’Juan Kelker has plans to continue expanding at the location downtown.
AKRON, Ohio — New restaurant DeJuan’s is bringing fine dining to downtown Akron, offering dishes like whole red snapper and tomahawk steak on the corner of West Exchange Street and South Main Street. But perhaps more important than what’s on the menu is the story of the restaurant’s founder, and what the spot brings to the Akron community.
DeJuan’s is the first Black-owned fine dining restaurant in downtown Akron, if not Akron as a whole. Owner De’Juan Kelker, an entrepreneur and pastor who is new to the restaurant industry, said opening this business was his way of giving back to the Akron community.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us to do something for the community and just show them that we could operate in excellence as well, and we can do certain things that people probably thought we couldn’t do.”
Kelker is used to overcoming obstacles; at 18 years old, he was the victim of gun violence. He said at the time, he got caught up in the wrong crowd, but ultimately feels what happened to him helped him focus on his goals.
“The odds were against me, and I just tried to fight through all of that,” he said. “I tried to see what I could do to make a difference in the community, and it led to me becoming a community leader, me becoming a pastor. And now my goal is just to always do something to try to affect the community.”
Kelker said his love of the City of Akron has driven him to want to contribute to the community by opening this business. He also has plans to one day open an event space and cigar lounge on the second floor of the building.
Downtown Akron Partnership president Suzie Graham said that storefronts like DeJuan’s are important in shaping downtown areas.
“A small business owner does so much for representing what downtown can be and what downtown should be to the rest of the community in a way that typical programming is not able to do,” she said. “They can occupy a space 24/7, and with the way that they present their retail destination, with their staff, and with the hours that they are open, all those things help shape the culture and character of a community.”
Additionally, she said it’s important that businesses reflect their communities and the people they serve.
“We’re excited about DeJuan’s because it’s not only a business that is a Black-owned business, but it’s also a fine dining experience,” she said. “Inviting people of color to downtown, to a Black-owned business, for fine dining, I think really signals again that we’re ready for this change in the downtown environment, and we’re ready for retail to be particularly inclusive and exciting and a vibrant part of our community.”
Kelker said he hopes that others who are facing challenges in their lives remember to never give up, sharing that you can do anything you want to do as long as you keep working. It’s the same mentality he’s applied to opening his restaurant.
“We’re here to stay, we’re working hard to get this thing perfected,” he said. “I never ever did a restaurant, so this is my first time and I jumped right in. We’re excited, and we’re ready to go. We’re ready to go and be here for a while.”