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BUSINESS

Khadijah's Kitchen: Auburn woman opens restaurant in Fingerlakes Mall

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When it comes to food, malls are known for pizza, burgers, maybe Chinese and not much else.

At Fingerlakes Mall, one new restaurateur wants to change that.

Now open in the Aurelius mall's food court is Khadijah's Kitchen, which specializes in the soul food that owner Chantel O'Hara has been serving at her food truck of the same name since last summer.

O'Hara, of Auburn, told The Citizen that she opened the restaurant in the mall to keep her business going as the truck closed for the winter. By next summer, she hopes to be operating both.

Cooking has been a love of O'Hara's for a long time. Along with preparing food for her family during the holidays, she has some experience in private catering. She saved the money to buy her food truck while staying home to watch her five children during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. To build the business, she brought it to CC's Tavern in Auburn and events like Fillmore Days in Moravia.

Helping O'Hara build the business has been the food itself. She recommends new customers try her honey pepper chicken mac and cheese, among other mac and cheese options. Her menu also boasts soul food staples like barbecue chicken with cornbread and collard greens, yellow rice and red beans and rice. Her chilis, including a chili macaroni and cheese bowl, have been popular too, she said.

Those just looking for burgers will find them at Khadijah's, but O'Hara prepares hers "smash" style. Pressing them makes the patties thinner but juicier, she said.

One thing customers won't find at Khadijah's, however, is pork. O'Hara converted to Islam last year, and took Khadijah as her Muslim name to signify a new start. Even before that she didn't eat pork for health reasons, though. She said many of her customers have told her they don't eat it either, so they've been happy to find a food business that doesn't have a trace of the meat in its kitchen.

Whatever customers order from Khadijah's, it's been made fresh and by hand, O'Hara said. Business at the mall has been "going pretty well" since she opened there on Oct. 12.

"Weekends are good, and the events on Thursdays," she said. "I get new faces all the time."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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