Maurinise Lee has always wanted to open her own restaurant in Hyde Park.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I grew up at 5323 South Woodlawn, went to Murray, went to Kenwood," she said. "I have always wanted to open a restaurant here. So I just started praying and asking God for the perfect place.”
Now, Lee will see her dream come true — What’s Krackin’ Southern Seafood is set to open Aug. 8 at 1310 E. 53rd St. Lee’s restaurant will feature seafood served either boiled, grilled, or fried in various spice levels and buttery sauces.
“I always cooked, my mother cooked, her mother cooked,” she said. “My family is from the South, of course, Arkansas and Mississippi. They do Southern dishes, so that’s how I got started adding a Southern twist to the seafood.”
Seafood options will include king crab, snow crab, lobster, shrimp, oysters and white fish, some to be served in Po’ Boy sandwiches, along with a rotating selection of Southern specials that Lee said she intends to sell on Sundays. The grand opening on Aug. 8 will last from noon to 5 p.m. and will feature music and free desserts.
While Lee has always wanted to open a restaurant, she has mainly worked in salons until now, having first started cutting hair at age 14. At the same time, she continued to help her mother run a catering business.
“We cooked everything, from fish, to macaroni and cheese, to fried chicken, to Thanksgiving dinners, to greens. And of course we had a Southern specialty of potato salad,” Lee said. In the course of all this catering work, Lee said she developed a spice blend that she’ll be using on the seafood. It features dill, “lots of garlic,” lemon, chilis, and onion.
Lee herself started selling food independently when she bought a food truck in 2013. “But I didn’t like driving, so I sold the truck,” she said.
Though Lee intended to open this restaurant earlier, having signed a lease in April, the pandemic slowed down the process of opening considerably. During the tail end of the pandemic, when people started gathering again, she started catering for families and at trucking company gatherings in the southern suburbs.
“The business was so good”, she said, “so I knew I had to open the brick and mortar.”
Commenting on how she came up with the name of “What’s Krackin' ”, Lee said, “I always had this hashtag, ‘shrimpin’ ain’t easy, so what’s krackin'?' ’’ And I just started playing with it.”
The What’s Krackin' interior features Edison bulb lighting and nautical themed decorations. Lee said that while she had already hired a chef, she would be doing cooking, management, and “everything from head to toe until I figure it out.”
“I’m gonna definitely start in the kitchen though, with the cooks, to show them my vision,” she added.
Lee has several broader aspirations for the restaurant: She hopes it will eventually become a franchise and wants to use the restaurant space to manufacture commercially available sauces.
“I want motorbikes delivering the seafood everywhere from here to the lake, so people can eat in the sand and stuff like that,” she said.
“I feel like this (restaurant) was a divine order,” she said. “My vision for the community, for What’s Krackin is greater than me. That’s why I say it’s a divine order.”
What's Krackin' Southern Seafood, 1310 E. 53rd St. Open noon to 8 p.m. every day except Mondays.
The restaurant is also hiring for line cooks, dishwashers, cashiers and other jobs. To apply for open positions, email resume to firstname.lastname@example.org