Justin Kennedy was raised in Biloxi, Miss., and moved to New Orleans after finishing high school in 2003, the same year his uncle Jay Nix reopened the legendary po-boy shop Parkway Bakery & Tavern (538 N. Hagan St., 504-482-3047; www.parkwaypoorboys.com). Kennedy has since been featured on several cable food shows, most recently Last Call Food Brawl, a bar food competition, which he won. Later this month he's scheduled to donate one of his kidneys to his brother John Kennedy, who also is a manager at Parkway.
Did you envision a career in po-boys when you started working here?
Kennedy: No, I didn't think I'd be here long. But I loved it. It's the people who come here. You want to see New Orleans? I see it every day on this corner. And I learned everything about cooking by working here. I learned from the older guys in the kitchen who have worked all around town, from chef James Adams especially. We call him chef. He's not actually an acclaimed chef, but in my world he is. He taught me the approach, how to take care with everything you're doing for the final product to come out right.
I hear you're planning an expansion at Parkway. Will that let you do more of the special sandwiches you used to serve?
K: We're putting in a second kitchen and adding a second service window. That should be ready by the first of the year. That's when we'll bring back some specials, like the Cuban. But really it's to keep the line moving and keep our regulars coming back. There's a line out the door, but if we were happy and content with that we'd lose business. We have to take care of our locals, so they don't go walking by us. I don't want to be known as the place that got too big for its britches.
Are you and your brother comfortable talking publicly about your upcoming transplant surgery?
K: We don't mind talking about it, because awareness is the biggest thing. If more people know you can live and function with one kidney, maybe more people will become donors. The way I look at it, my brother has a flat tire and I have a spare, so I'm helping him out. — IAN MCNULTY