The newest Downtown Akron restaurant is making history, and its owner has overcome challenging odds to reach this point.
AKRON, Ohio — The newest Downtown Akron restaurant is making history, and its owner has overcome challenging odds to reach this point.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for DeJuan’s took place Friday afternoon at the intersection of Exchange and Main streets, the former location of Bricco restaurant. Two hours later, the upscale restaurant opened to the public.
“It’s epic. It’s big. It’s like a dream come true. I’m an overcomer,” said owner DeJuan Kelker II.
Kelker overcame a real-life nightmare nearly 30 years ago on the streets of Akron.
“After my 18th birthday, I was a victim of a gunshot wound, totally changed my life,” he said.
Kelker said it happened in 1994. He told News 5 he was hanging with the wrong crowd, got into a fight and was shot by a 15-year-old boy.
Kelker was paralyzed from the waist down. He has been in a wheelchair since the shooting.
“I told myself after the gunshot wound, I want to try to live the most normal life I can, the best life that I can,” he said.
Kelker became a pastor and runs an agency for people with developmental disabilities.
He is now happy to serve people in a new way through his restaurant, which serves menu items that include whole red tail snapper, tomahawk steak and a unique peanut butter and jelly burger.
He’s also proud to open the first black-owned fine dining restaurant in Akron.
“It just means a lot to be able to do something for the African-American community, represent for the African-American community,” he said.
DeJuan’s marks the 15th black-owned business to open in Downtown Akron.
There’s an ongoing effort to welcome a diverse mix of storefront owners to Downtown, according to Suzie Graham, the president of Downtown Akron Partnership.
“Storefront businesses are such a significant part of the culture and the character of our community,” Graham said.
She said that DeJuan’s is adding to Downtown’s growing retail vibrancy. There are currently 97 storefront retailers. More than 30 of those have opened post-pandemic, according to city officials.
“Now, more than ever, we’re seeing a significant uptick in our visitors that are coming to Downtown whether it’s for a day trip, to come out to dinner, or to come to one of the amazing arts and culture entities,” Graham said.
In recent years, Downtown businesses have faced multiple challenges, including lost revenue from the pandemic, construction woes, and vandalism following the police-involved shooting of Jayland Walker.
However, Kelker is optimistic about the future.
“I think we’ve recovered well since the pandemic and since the other things— the protests and things that were going on. I think we’ve recovered pretty well,” he said.
Kelker’s recovery from the shooting and his upbeat attitude inspires many people around him. He’s very excited about what his new restaurant venture is bringing to the community.
“This is a chance to show people that you can overcome any situation you’re faced with,” he said.
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