Making ‘raves’

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Lutfi’s Fried Fish in Belton has Cass County residents raving about their fresh fish, chicken, and shrimp. They cook everything to perfection by frying it, steaming it, or blackening it. They’ll even put it on a bun if you’d like.

Looking for some comfort? Fried okra and homemade red beans and rice are a couple of the sides offered, along with mac ‘n’ cheese, green beans, and others. The entire menu is hand-written at the register next to another hand-written sign that offers a discount to all military and  City and State workers.

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Dominique Garlington, one of six employees hired by Smith and Sinclair Jr., tosses some fish in the deep fryer. All dishes are made to order at Lutfi’s.

Walking into Lutfi’s may take some restaurant-goers aback because of its simplicity. The artwork on the wall is the same as when Popeyes® occupied the space. The booth backings are made from Kansas City Chiefs and Mizzou Tigers cloth. The food is served in Styrofoam boxes (making for an easy take-out) with plastic cutlery. The bed of fish is laid atop slices of white bread. But that’s all just part of the experience.

“It’s part of the mystique of what we do,” said co-owner Freddie Sinclair, Jr., who is brand new to the restaurant business.

Sinclair worked as a pharmaceutical representative for ten years, serving as a diabetes care specialist, before joining on with Lutfi’s. Aaron Smith, Lutfi’s other co-owner and Sinclair’s best friend, laughed at Sinclair as he explained that he was once a part of “corporate America.”

Smith and Sinclair, now both 32 years old, grew up as neighbors in Kansas City, going to preschool together and naturally becoming close friends. It wasn’t until after high school that the pair went different directions.

“Actually we went separate paths,” said Smith. “He went to college and I didn’t. But we’ve always had a good relationship.”

Owning and operating their own restaurant is a new venture for the lifetime friends, though, as an unknown future awaits their business. So far, they’re off to a great start.

Lutfi’s started cooking up and selling its seafood in 1996 at the corner of 35th Street and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City. Since then, the restaurant, named after its founder, has left that location and franchised the business, opening doors in five different locations.

Lutfi’s Restaurants can be found around KC on 31st and 63rd Streets, in Wyandotte, Raytown, and now Belton.

Smith got started with Lutfi’s last year, running his own store on Troost Street.

“I decided to move to a better market and I asked this guy to come along,” he said, nudging Sinclair. After the friend agreed to invest in the start-up, he was laid off from his job only a week before…

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For the rest of the story and more images, pick up a copy of this week’s Journal!

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