LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) — If you need proof the American Dream is still alive and well, look no further. A WAVE Country woman chased the dream, captured it, and now she's sharing her success with her family and taking it national.
It's the middle of the lunchtime rush on a Wednesday, and food is flying out of the kitchen at the Seafood Lady. The restaurant is nestled away at the corner of Six and West Oak Streets.
The woman behind the now-famous brand is Nichelle Thurston. She shows off many of the dishes that have quickly sent her restaurant on the fast track to success.
First up is the famous Crab Fry. Think french fries loaded up with crab meat, house cheese, her secret seasoning, and fresh parsley. It's truly a treat to both the eyes and the stomach.
She wouldn't budge on revealing what's in that top-secret seasoning blend - she'd only tell us that it's a creole blend from Louisiana. The flavors are unmistakable.
Customers near and far are making the trip to get their fix. We caught up with a couple in Louisville from Wichita, Kansas. "It's very good," Tommy Dao said. "There are so many seasonings on all of it."
The creatively cooked crustaceans are also striking a cord with locals. "It's fabulous," another customer said. "I tried the crab cake first and it's just wonderful."
Thurston is a Louisville transplant. Originally from Florida, she said living on the Gulf Coast is where she gained her love of seafood. The cooking prowess comes from her grandfather who was a Marine who loved to cook big meals - often times dinner came straight from the Gulf.
A network marketer by trade, Thurston dove head first into Louisville's booming restaurant industry a little more than a year ago.
It started on her front porch in July 2015. Thurston was known in the neighborhood for her can't-miss Sunday seafood boils. Crowds were literally wrapped around the block. Soon, she'd start charging.
Thurston told her neighbors, "OK you guys. You have to start paying for it. It's expensive." She said they didn't mind paying for it.
A few months later she fired up her own food truck. And this year, she opened the doors to her restaurant.
"My dream was always to be my own boss, to create jobs and help other people," Thurston said.
While some may see Thurston's success as overnight, she believes everything she's done up until this point in her career has led her to where she is now.
Thurston's success is no doubt a product of the American Dream, and she's sharing that dream with her family. Her younger brother, older bother, and mother are now entrepreneurs. They've opened up their own restaurant ventures in Thurston's likeness. The menus are also similar - crowned with Nichelle's secret seasoning blend.
"My brother and them, they tried it. There's a need for seafood in places."
One of those places is the DC Metro Area. We made the trek to track down the Seafood Lady's brother, the "Crab Boss." We found lines snaking around a parking lot on a hot Saturday morning. People waited upwards of an hour to get a taste of the family recipe passed on by Thurston.
Her older brother started selling plates out of the back of his black SUV. Now he has his own restaurant in Brandywine, MD. A month after the Crab Boss got his start, Thurston's mom opened up the Shrimp Lips food truck in Columbus, Ohio. Now, her younger brother is busy with Big Al's Crabs in their hometown of Pensacola, Florida. He's also working on opening up a soul food restaurant called Oscar's Soul Food.
So what's the secret? Thurston said it's all about treating customers like she would treat her own. "A cousin, an Uncle Pete or something - a piece of the family."
It's a winning recipe sure to keep customers coming back for more.
Aside from the rest of the family's success, the Seafood Lady is looking to move from her small location Oak Street to a larger one. She said she's also planning to open a second location in the very near future.
Click here to check out the Seafood Lady's menu.