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Categories: 2024 Seasoned in Service, FEB/MARCH 2024, FOOD & DRINK, Seasoned in Service

Seasoned in Service:
Chelsea Hughes
22 years, four years as owner of Kinjo Kitchen and Cocktails, plus the new Black Cat Liquor and Libations

Seasoned in Service is a series in our annual Food Issues, celebrating local food service professionals who have been in the business for ten or more years, highlighting their invaluable contributions to our community.

Interviews by Sierra Stark Stevens

Photos by DSTO Moore

A well-seasoned food service veteran and the serial entrepreneur behind Kinjo and Black Cat, Chelsea Hughes sees mentorship as a core mission, bringing respect, dignity, and consistency to the industry — without sacrificing creativity. 


What skills or experiences did you bring with you when you started out? 

A vibrant curiosity and passion for understanding and connecting with people. 


Have you always lived and worked in Macon? 

No, I was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia. I moved to Macon in 2005 to attend Mercer University and have mostly been here since!


Did you start out in your current role, or have you worked other positions? 

I started as a hostess at a major chain restaurant in Columbus right after high school and transitioned from role to role at various restaurants over the course of my career. Before opening my own restaurant and speakeasy, my favorite role was behind the bar. Whether managing, bartending, or creating and executing a new bar program, I always felt the most at home there. 


Is there a certain attitude or principle that guides your work? 

I believe that the service industry has been considered (by a vast majority of people, certainly not all) an inferior career path, “not a real job” or a “turn and burn” sort of job, and that this has not only impacted the way that consumers perceive service industry workers, but also has created a pattern of apathy and neglect within the industry that fuels unprofessional management, discrimination, and harassment. It’s very important to me that my staff are not only valued and treated with respect, but also that they are offered as many opportunities for growth and development within the company and industry as possible. One of my main goals when I opened Kinjo Kitchen + Cocktails was to create a place where driven and dedicated service industry workers could grow, thrive, and pursue their passion for the food and beverage industry in a healthy and empowering environment. 


What’s special about Macon’s food scene?

I love Macon’s restaurant scene both for it’s current diversity and the evolution I have already seen take place over the last 10 years, and for the potential it still offers restauranteurs to pioneer styles of cuisine and dining experiences to which Maconites have not yet been exposed. 


What should people try at Kinjo? 

Definitely the Curry Chicken Ramen, but honestly there’s nothing I wouldn’t recommend. My favorites are the Hoisin Duck, the Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps and the Ginger Scallion Chicken! 


What makes you most proud at the end of the day? 

Watching my staff develop over time, both professionally and personally. I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of significant and empowering growth in the lives of my people, and seeing them proud of themselves brings me so much joy. 


What do you wish outsiders knew about the service industry?

Ultimately, I think it’s important for everyone who walks through my doors to realize how passionate every employee in this building is about creating a memorable and enjoyable experience for you. It’s a lot more work than you think it is – the time we spend every morning prepping all the ingredients in our food, making every sauce from scratch, roasting/smoking/braising/portioning every protein, juicing citrus for our bar, infusing spirits, making syrups. Our day starts at 8 a.m. for 5 p.m. dinner service. It’s all a labor of love, and we enjoy it tremendously. Will it always be perfect for everyone, every time? Absolutely not. With peace and love: if you don’t enjoy your experience and you don’t bring it to our attention while you are still within our walls, but choose instead to leave a negative review online about a problem you didn’t give us the opportunity to correct? Well, that seems a bit unfair, don’t you think? 


What’s important to you outside of work?

Spending quality time with my little boy and staying active! I love rock climbing at Macon Rocks, paddleboarding the Ocmulgee, cooking at home, and being silly with my toddler.