Radio Personality DJKY started his DJ career at age 17 while still a high school student known as Kyler Smith. He was soon organizing parties for thousands of high school students. Early on, DJKY was curating his events using novel techniques that were new in his home city of Cleveland.
As a 21 year old college DJ, DJKY bolstered his brand by bringing famous artists to Cleveland. He went on to feature as a DJ for Sway in the Morning and Hip Hop Nation, and was featured in the MGK tour.
In August 2019, DJKY opened The Sauce Boiling Seafood Express, a restaurant which provided boiling seafood bags. Although he has no experience as a chef or restaurant owner, DJKY has created quality concepts, menus and recipes on his own. He has opened up five more sauce locations in just a year and half, three of which are in Cleveland.
We asked DJKY what got him started as a DJ, why he moved into the restaurant business, and whether Cleveland has more going on than people on the coasts realize.
Grit Daily: You started as a DJ at age 17, while still in high school. What motivated you to get started, and what did you learn from those first gigs?
DJKY: What really motivated me to get started at 17 was a classmate of mine told me I looked like I could be a DJ. I was already in the thought process of figuring out how to make school more exciting and how to make games hype again for students so I pondered on the idea for a couple weeks and then I made it happen.
Grit Daily: As you got a little older, you switched to organizing college parties. Who were some of the celebrities you attracted to those events, and how did their attendance affect your career?
DJKY: My first big booking was with celebrity rapper KStylis who at the time had a major hit single out. I sold out two major shows that first weekend and from then went on to book with celebrities such as Miracle Watts (Instagram influencer) and OG Maco (Rapper) that transitioned into me starting up my own festival, Power Fest which included YFN Lucci, Kash Doll and DJ Esco.
Their attendance affected my career because it made it clear to the city that I was more than just a DJ or just party promoter but that I was also Event curator.
Grit Daily: You opened The Sauce Boiling Seafood Express in August 2019. Two questions. First, what is a boiling seafood bag? And second, since Cleveland is far from the ocean, why seafood?
DJKY: There’s a difference between a boiling seafood bag and The Sauce. The sauce boiling seafood bag is more than a bag, it’s an experience. It’s a creole cuisine that consists of corn, potatoes, sausage, seafood and any one of our signature sauces.
From the fresh seafood, no long lines, and multiple locations we are here to set the standard for black businesses.
With Cleveland being so far from the ocean that’s exactly why I chose seafood. There’s nothing else like it, it brings an experience to the city and it’s great food, who doesn’t love seafood!
Grit Daily: Restaurants are notorious for thin profit margins. What attracted you to the hospitality industry?
DJKY: To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when the idea came about. I guess you can say I got lucky with the success of my first location which allowed me to learn and grow with opening 3 more locations the following year. As far as the hospitality part I learned people not only come back for good foods but the experience as well. I’m now able to give others The Sauce experience through our quality. I’m on track to transitioning spaces that are diverse, more than a club or more than a dining experience but a vibe.
Grit Daily: Dance parties and restaurants seem to be particularly vulnerable businesses during a pandemic lockdown. How did the covid pandemic affect your businesses?
DJKY: Financially my business was not affected, but my employees and keeping workers was the biggest hurdle for The Sauce. When covid got bad and restrictions were placed I completely stopped DJing for 6 months. To be honest covid helped me lock in and reach a new perspective about my own life. I focused on my seafood locations, how to be better and new opportunities. Now that the world is back moving I am currently running 3 active open Sauces, 2 opening soon and expanding in other states as well DJing full time on the weekends.
Grit Daily: Doing my research for this interview, I got the distinct impression that you are committed to Cleveland. Is Cleveland cooler than people on the coasts realize?
DJKY: Tell people Cleveland is a gold mine! We as a city are somewhat behind when it comes to movements and the fast life. I travel a lot and I see the potential Cleveland has. The market itself as far as hospitality, new trends and concepts proves that Cleveland is behind. I try to bring those ideas and concepts back and make them look like a big deal because it’s stuff that has never been done before. I want to be the person to turn the city up while leaving my mark and trust me Cleveland is the next upcoming city.