CINCINNATI — Keyona Armstead and Joy Willis, co-owners of Clifton’s K&J Seafood, will bring their Cajun-spiced cuisine to Findlay Market in August. It’s their first expansion since opening in 2018, unsure of what would happen next.
“We didn’t know what we’re getting ourselves into,” Armstead said. “We just kind of took it a day at a time. … We just knew that we wanted more. More for ourselves, for our children. We just decided to take a leap of faith.”
They’ve done a healthy trade in crab boils, po' boy sandwiches and seafood fries ever since, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new location in Findlay Market will be a testament to their success — and also to the market’s evolving commitment to bringing in minority-owned businesses.
“We’re very excited,” Willis said of the Findlay Market location. “There is some new breath that is coming into the market, with other African-American vendors.”
Findlay Market reassessed its mission in 2016, according to events coordinator Erinn Sweet. Since then, market leaders have prioritized creating space for businesses owned by women, immigrants and racial minorities.
Around 50% of full-time vendors fall under that umbrella, Sweet said Monday. About 20% are Black-owned specifically.
“We are in the urban core of Cincinnati, we have such a diverse community and neighborhood,” Sweet said. “We always have. People come to Findlay Market for the experience, and we wanted to make sure that the experience for our shoppers is as inclusive as possible.”
When the market went searching for a new seafood vendor, K&J was a natural choice.
Armstead said she’s eager to be in the middle of a diverse, supportive business community. She isn’t sure exactly when the Findlay Market location will open, but she’ll be ready when they nail down a date.
“We are excited to bring a little soul, a little jazz, a little bit of our culture, but also to learn about other cultures as well,” she said. “My goal is to show those little black girls that it’s possible, to show the little black boys that it’s possible — and not just the little black kids but all kids that it’s possible. We weren’t given anything. Everything that we have, we worked for.”