By Marjorie Rice
As any restaurateur will tell you – especially after the last year – resilience is as important to their success as their menus and recipes.
And Flavorz Fish & Chicken owners Lamont and Chiquila Turner personify resilience. Not only did their fledgling business face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, lease issues forced them to close their restaurant on Seventh Street after only eight months in operation.
In those months, the Turners had built a faithful clientele who craved the tastes of home, Lamont said.
“We had to react quickly to find something temporary to keep our customers, who really wanted our food,” he said.
When their restaurant closed, they kept in touch, marketing to customers through Facebook and Instagram, and also by getting out into the community, doing catering and events like birthdays.
The couple found a location in the Highland Food Hub, a sort of culinary condo on Highland Avenue just west of Seventh Avenue that offers kitchen space for catering, take-out and delivery. There are no tables and most orders are picked up by delivery services such as DoorDash, Grubhub and Instacart.
Within a couple of months, the Turners were back, serving the St. Louisinspired fried fish, chicken and shrimp that their loyal customers craved.
“We’re hoping to have a new site within six months, depending on the market and what we can find,” Chiquila said around press time.
Meanwhile, helped by their son, Xeavion, they are operating out of a tiny galley kitchen where they perform a careful dance as they pivot from deep fryers to a compact counter, putting together take-out orders.
The menu is limited, given the small kitchen, and almost everything is deep-fried, not surprising for a restaurant that features flavors of St. Louis, where breaded, deep-fried ravioli is a menu standard. Deep-fried dishes include catfish and swai (a whitefish from Vietnam that is growing in popularity in the United States), chicken (whole wings and tenders), shrimp, zucchini, okra and corn on the cob (the last fried, then rolled in honey butter and sprinkled with lemon pepper).
Other dishes include French fries and slaw, mac and cheese, caramel cake and cream cheese pound cake (the cakes go fast, so order early).
And pickles – don’t miss the pickles.
“They’re my grandmother’s recipe,” Chiquila said. “They’re sweet and a little bit spicy.”
That’s an understatement. They are mouth-puckering, vinegary and salty with a layer of sweetness, a perfect foil for the cornmeal-crusted fish.
Chiquila also created a sticky sauce, a sweet and spicy concoction that is great on the wings, shrimp and fish – even the fries.
At press time the Turners were planning to add peach cobbler rolls to the menu.
“It all depends on Chiquila and how soon she can get the recipe the way she wants it,” Lamont said.
Chiquila is the creative force behind the menu, basing the dishes on recipes handed down for generations.
“We come from a family of cooks and caterers,” Chiquila said.
Family members in Detroit and St. Louis operate bakeries, restaurants and food trucks featuring barbecue and Southern-inspired menus. Their concept is simple.
“Our product speaks for itself,” Lamont said.
“We cook with love, and take pride in what we do, and we want to provide great customer service. We have faith in our cooking, faith in our menu and faith in our customers, that they’ll keep coming back for a taste of home.”
For now, resilience remains a hallmark of the Turners’ approach to their business.
“This is a short stop in a bigger game,” Lamont said. “We went through a situation and learned a lot from it. We didn’t let it break us. We kept going, and found a place where we could continue to cook and keep our clientele happy. We hope to become a household name.”
Flavorz Fish & Chicken, in the Highland Food Hub at 720 W. Highland Ave., is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays for take-out and delivery only. For information and to order, call 602-334-1844 or visit www.facebook.com/Flavorzaz or www.instagram.com/flavorzaz.