In looking at Oak Park, Misty and Nicholas Alafranji saw Brooklyn.
The couple moved from New York City’s trendiest neighborhood to north Natomas four years ago for the weather, lower cost of living and proximity to Nicholas’ relatives, Misty said. When they found the stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that most reminded them of New York and heard about the nonprofit working there, Misty said she knew it was the right place for a restaurant she hopes will give back to the surrounding community.
Hautebird promises to be far from a typical fried chicken-and-waffles joint when it opens next year at 3200 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It aims to spin chicken inside waffle cones into “global soul food,” Misty said, and will hire all employees from the neighboring City of Refuge.
For the Alafranjis, that means staffing their first Sacramento restaurant with former gang members, human trafficking victims, addicts and at-risk kids selected through City of Refuge’s work readiness program. She previously owned Lucas Fine Foods café in New York while Nicholas — Hautebird’s business manager — built his career in private wealth management.
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At Hautebird, cooks will coat chicken in a proprietary brine and let it rest for 12 to 24 hours before battering and frying it. Customers select a dressing — right now it’s comeback sauce (think aioli mixed with remoulade), jalapeno-cilantro ranch and island sweet chili garlic — before the bird finds its bed inside a housemade waffle cone.
Hautebird hosted food bloggers for a test meal Tuesday and will hold several pop-ups before opening next year, starting Saturday from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. outside Device Brewing Co.’s new Ice Blocks taproom.
Brooklyn expats opening a chicken-and-waffles restaurant could raise some eyebrows in a neighborhood where gentrification remains a major concern. For what it’s worth, they plan on highlighting comfort food from a variety of ethnic backgrounds — poutine from Quebec, grain salads found in Arab countries — once Hautebird’s brick-and-mortar store is up and running. Vegetarian and gluten-free main dishes should also make it onto the final menu.
That’s part of the reason behind Hautebird’s mission to merge comfort food for a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. The other: Misty is part Sicilian and part Cajun, Nicholas is of Middle Eastern descent and extended relatives hail from the Dominican Republic and India. Family dinners — like Hautebird — can be something of a mishmash.
“Every country has their type of soul food, and if you look in Sacramento we have a lot of diversity, but in some areas we don’t emphasize it as much,” Misty said. “There’s so much there. It’s not about changing the neighborhood, it’s about preserving what is there and bringing back some of the elements of what it used to be.”