Kelly Jae’s staying open, but changes are coming

Kelly Jae's will be a bit different moving forward.

Posted on March 25, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 25, 2013 at 10:34 a.m.

This week’s Quick Bites have more restaurant news.

You’ll still be able to get Chef Kelly Graff’s wasabi salmon at Kelly Jae’s.

You just won’t be able to have Karen Kennedy serve it to you.

For the last 14 years, Graff and Kennedy have served some of Elkhart County’s best food. For most of that time, Graff was a chef and Kennedy worked in the dining room.

There have been numerous rumors lately about the future of Kelly Jae’s Cafe, the tapas restaurant at 133 S. Main St., Goshen, and Kelly Jae’s Next Door, 135 S. Main.

The two women clarified what’s happening in an interview last week.

“Kelly Jae’s is not closing,” said owner Kelly Graff.

But after nearly 25 years in the restaurant business, including the last 14 in Goshen with Graff, Kennedy has left the restaurant business and ended her professional relationship with Graff.

Kennedy, who was co-operator and general manager, moved to Indianapolis a little over a week ago and plans to focus on a free-lance writing career.

“I needed to get out of the restaurant business. I have needed that for a while,” she said. “On a personal level, to live here and not work in the restaurant didn’t make a lot of sense for me.”

She plans to also pursue music and theater in the bigger urban setting. She’s done some of that and is performing this weekend.

The two started working together at Checkerberry Inn east of Goshen, where Graff became a self-taught chef in her family’s business. They ran the inn for a time and eventually renamed the restaurant Citrus — An American Bistro.

They closed and worked with several owners to open Indigo on 17.

In 2008, they left Indigo and opened a restaurant of their own that has been Elkhart County’s best fine dining option.

The two introduced tapas — small plates — at the restaurant and explained it to unknowing customers. When they opened the bar, they had sushi, but later abandoned it.

They have high standards. They have been demanding of employees and vendors. And they’ve been successful at serving good food and providing good service for a long time.

Business has grown every year, even through the recession.

“We have built a good business together,” Graff said.

I’ve said it before. The restaurant business is very hard. Giving customers great food with reliable service is difficult. Kennedy learned to know her customers well and respond to their needs. There have been times when I wished Graff and Kennedy had a larger staff around them to round out service at Kelly Jae’s, but the food was rarely disappointing on any level and Kelly Jae’s has been one of the best in the area.

That isn’t likely to change. Graff is going back into the kitchen to focus on food rather than the dining room. “The creativity with food is my passion,” she said.

She said she plans to tweak the menu as well.

New dining room staff, whom Kennedy has helped train, will interact with customers. The new general manager is Elaine Laux and the bar manager is her son, Paul Laux.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from customers about Kelly Jae’s is the inconsistent and early hours. Graff said she plans to change the bar hours in April and will stay open until midnight on weekends. The bar has often closed around 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, along with the restaurant. She’s still working on what weekday bar hours will be. Food from the Kelly Jae’s full menu will still be served in the bar, but late at night it may be a more limited bar menu.

Another change Graff is making is adding lunch on Saturdays. The restaurant is closed at lunch now, but lunch service will resume sometime in April on Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The restaurant and bar were closed for vacation for two weeks, but reopened Tuesday. Evening hours for now will be 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and 5:30 to 9 Friday and Saturday, Graff said.

Kennedy is proud of the work they’ve done, but also the loyal and “unfailingly supportive” customers. “I think we have the nicest clientele at Kelly Jae’s of any restaurant I’ve worked at,” she said.

“We will miss Karen, but change is good,” Graff said.

“Change is inevitable,” Kennedy said.

Change can also be sad. I’m relieved Kelly Jae’s is staying open. I look forward to eating what Graff and her staff sends out of the kitchen. And I look forward to what may come next.

But there is sadness in this change too. Best wishes, Karen.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com, 574-296-5805, on Twitter or Instagram @hungrymarshallDining A La King Facebook page;[URL].[/URL]


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