“Honestly, as a child, I never liked to cook,” she admitted during a recent phone call. “Then, when I got engaged and pregnant, I got more into it. You know how social media is, the whole hate train with relationships. I got really depressed, so I started cooking.”
Smith started out by looking up recipes and changing them to suit her taste. After she posted photos of the dishes on social media, people wanted to know how to make them.
“It just started blowing up,” she said. “People were requesting videos and recipes, and it just kind of created itself, so I formed Crystal Creations.”
Crystal Smith (left) and Ne-Yo are partners with hip-hop artist Karlie Redd in Johnny’s Chicken & Waffles in College Park. Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP
Credit: Willy Sanjuan
Credit: Willy Sanjuan
That led to a collaboration with Gobble, known as the originator of the 15-minute gourmet dinner kit. “It snowballed into what it is now, and it ended up being my therapy,” Smith said.
She often takes inspiration from friends and family, including her husband. He requested barbecue sauce on his salmon one day, and Southern barbecue salmon was born.
“My husband loves it, and everyone else does, too, so I thought why not give it to Johnny’s, and see what it does,” she said. “Now, it sells out almost every day.”
The salmon and lamb chop dishes are available only on the dinner menu, after 4 p.m., so I wasn’t able to try them.
Of course, I did try the chicken, which Smith told me was created with a secret spice blend. The flavor is subtle, but it works well with the crispy skin. And, I was pleased by how well the chicken traveled in plastic foam containers.
I wondered whether Smith ever dreamed of owning a restaurant when she was a kid, growing up Fort Myers, Florida.
“Five years ago, when I started cooking, I had no idea that this was what would happen,” she said. “I just wanted to start a YouTube channel, and try to do something with that. But, once I did the meal kit, and it had the success that it did, it gave me the drive to see what else I could do.”
Smith said the partners chose College Park for Johnny’s location, because it fit the target demographic.
“It just made sense to put the restaurant somewhere the audience would receive it well.” she said. “In College Park, there’s a lot of young people, and that works, because it’s a music-inspired atmosphere, and there’s a lot of foot traffic, and a lot of culture. We get a lot of people from the airport, so that worked out, for sure.”
Going forward, the plan is to franchise Johnny’s and open more locations. In the meantime, Smith is staying busy with the restaurant, and is expecting her third child with Ne-Yo.
She also stays involved in the Smith Family Foundation, founded to support children in foster care.
“I was in foster care as a child, so that’s something that’s very important to me,” Smith said. “You will see Johnny’s doing some big things with the Smith Family Foundation, trying to bring awareness, and provide help to these kids, to show them that they’re not alone.”
JOHNNY’S CHICKEN & WAFFLES
Menu: fried chicken, waffles and more
Alcohol: full bar for dine-in
What I ordered: chicken and waffles; four-piece fried chicken combo, with a breast, wing, leg and thigh; sides of creamy grits, kale greens and coleslaw. The chicken traveled well, and stayed crispy, and the sides were fresh. Some items, including the mac and cheese, aren’t available for takeout, and Smith’s entrees aren’t available until after 4 p.m.
Service options: dine-in; order by phone or in person for takeout; takeout and delivery from GrubHub wasn’t working when I tried to order online
Outdoor dining: no
Mask policy: employees wear masks
Address, phone: 3725 Main St., College Park; 404-748-4244
Hours: 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 7 a.m.-midnight Fridays-Saturdays
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