Chef Creole: How a Kid From Little Haiti Built a Seafood Empire

Chef Creole: How a Kid From Little Haiti Built a Seafood Empire
Chef Wilkinson "Ken" Sejour, AKA Chef Creole

Wilkinson Sejour plunks his brawny arms on a paper-scattered desk, grins mischievously, and asks his buddy, who's smoking a blunt, to fetch him a Corona. It's a Wednesday at 11 a.m., and Sejour's cell phone rings every five minutes. When he answers, his words jumble Calle Ocho slang with Kreyol patois: "Oye, asereje, not now." "Bonjour, monsieur." "Alo?"

After six calls, he locks his phone, hurls it onto the table, and throws his arms up. Sejour — a Haitian restaurateur, caterer to stars such as Jay-Z and Pitbull, and self-financed cooking show host — smirks like a kid who gets away with everything.

"Sorry about that," he says. "This is just how I roll."

Sejour struck gold with his seasoning.
Sejour struck gold with his seasoning.

Location Info

Map

Chef Creole

200 NW 54th St.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Restaurant > Creole

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Chef Creole

13105 W. Dixie Highway
North Miami, FL 33161

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: Upper Eastside/Miami Shores/Biscayne Park

Chef Creole

7957 NE 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33138

Category: Restaurant > Creole

Region: Upper Eastside/Miami Shores/Biscayne Park

Chef Creole

1392 NW 119th St.
Miami, FL 33167

Category: Restaurant > Creole

Region: North Miami

Chef Creole

20356 NW 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33169

Category: Restaurant > Creole

Region: Miami Gardens

Details

Chef Creole

200 NW 54th St., Miami; 305-754-2223, chefcreole.com; 1392 NW 119th St., Miami, 305-769-9440; 13105 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami, 305-893-4246; 20356 NW Second Ave., Miami Gardens, 305-651-4761; 7957 NE Second Ave., Miami, 305-754-2298. Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (NE Second Avenue location closes at 8 p.m.).

Earlier that day, a light rain smacked West Dixie Highway and glazed Chef Creole's small parking lot. A woman, her hair coiled beneath a vibrant turban, approached me. I told her I was there for the chef.

"You five minutes early!" she blurted out. "He told you 10:30. He be here 10:30."

At 10:30, a silver Mercedes sedan puttered into the vacant lot. Sejour, a 43-year-old with a shaved head and glowing skin, emerged from the car's leather interior. He led me through his office — three rooms cluttered with memorabilia: an apron signed by Magic Johnson and plaques from local schools thanking Chef Creole for sponsorships. Whether they refer to the man or the restaurant is unclear.

See also: Chef Creole's response to this review

Chef Creole grew up poor and made it big — cutting corners and walking that fine line between successful entrepreneur and street hood. How did a kid from Little Haiti, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Miami-Dade, build an empire without a college degree or help from the bank?

Sejour burst into thunderous laughter.

"This isn't an empire," he said. "This is a fucking nightmare."

Indeed, Chef Creole is a very busy man. He owns five take-out restaurants from Miami Gardens to Little Haiti, sells his signature sauces online, and has 13 kids — with only his wife, he makes very clear.

But when Sejour graduated from Miami Beach High School, he never imagined food would become his life. In his early 20s, Sejour, who was born in the Bahamas to Haitian parents but relocated to Miami as a child, teamed up with his brother, Jude Pierre. They bought a grill and began cooking Haitian food at festivals. When their mother told them to choose between attending college or launching a business, they opted for the latter. "Everything is arithmetic. You don't need school to make money," he says.

In 1992, the brothers borrowed cash from their granddad and friends to open the first Chef Creole. Located on NE 78th Street, the restaurant operated like a cheap take-away joint focused on volume, not overhead. Six months after opening, it was grossing more than $4,000 per day. The restaurant was a hit.

But five years later, tragedy beset the family. Jude Pierre passed away. In mourning, Sejour and his business became stagnant. The restaurant neither shrank nor grew. Then the chef immersed himself in a test kitchen to search for a signature Chef Creole flavor.

Eventually, Sejour struck gold. He mastered a blend of seasonings with Scotch bonnet peppers, onion, and spices. He bottled it and promoted it as a new product. Sales swelled. With the extra money, he debuted more restaurant locations.

Despite the shabby settings and bargain prices, celebrities such as Atlanta hip-hop act Goodie Mob raved about the spot's fried snapper, griot, and stewed oxtail. Entertainment executives took notice. In 2006, Sejour and Major Minerz, a local production agency, began filming cooking shows about Caribbean fare.

So when the Food Network came to town for a casting call, Sejour auditioned and made the cut. He says he flew to New York, charmed the bosses, and received a 30-page contract. The network offered him $50,000 for a cookbook and $4,000 per episode. But they also wanted the rights to the four episodes Sejour had already filmed with Major Minerz — at no additional price.

Beneath all the numbers, a bigger problem also lurked. Signing with a major network meant Sejour would have to watch what he said, how he acted, and whom he called friends. "If I'm at my friend's house and the feds walk in there and arrest everybody, then I got to explain what to who? Because you're some big network? Because my public relations is shitting bricks? Ah, fuck you. I ain't got time for that shit," he says.

There's more to his reasoning than just camaraderie, though. The outspoken cook's criminal record includes marijuana possession, three counts of disorderly conduct, and one felony charge for child abuse. He bats away the felony allegation thusly: "The cops [had] nothing 'cause I didn't do nothing." And indeed, that charge, filed in 1997, was dropped in 1998. "Yeah, I've gotten in trouble a few times," he says. "But nothing's ever stuck 'cause I'm too slippery."

Armed with an offer from the largest food channel in the nation, he says he weighed his options and issued a bombastic counteroffer: $80,000 for each of his old shows. The network's answer was no. (Food Network declined to comment on its negotiations with Sejour.)

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1 comments
miamiebayer
miamiebayer

After wasting my time reading this piece, I have concluded it's the biggest drivel I've read in a while. I thought I was reading an article based on a kid who turned his passion for food into an empire. Instead, it was an attack on his personal life. (Why was this posted in the "dining section" obviously the author has a personal vendetta against "Chef". I'm not sure who approved this "" to be published, but you should be ashamed. I'm a journalism major, and this is just in poor taste. Return your degree, or start actually contributing to the paper.

 
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