Canieka Fleming has her eyes on the fryer. No timer is set, but she knows the zucchini she breaded a few minutes ago will need to come out soon. Then, once the oil heats up again, she’ll drop her chicken – breaded wings so large they could pass for thighs. All the while, she has corn in the oven that will need to be hit with another ladle of Cajun aioli in a matter of seconds.

“I’m organized all-over-the-place,” Ms. Fleming explained once out of the heat of the kitchen. “I know what’s going on, but it’s a little messy.” 

Ms. Fleming is the chef behind Loud Kitchen, the newest restaurant concept leasing out of the Ritz Café in Oak Bluffs. The space is a continuation of Ms. Fleming’s pop-up of the same name at this past summer’s African American Film Festival and a realization of a long-held dream.

Prior to starting Loud Kitchen, Canieka Fleming worked as a cake decorator, sommelier, and private chef. — Jeanna Shepard

“When I turned mom sat me down and said, ‘What is it gonna be, military or college?’” she said. “I said I wanted to open a business, she said ‘Nope, try again.’ So, I told her I wanted to go to culinary school.” 

It would be many years before Ms. Fleming could scrape up the funds to attend the Culinary Institute of America, and years after that before she eventually did start her first business, a catering company run out of the Orange Peel Bakery’s kitchen in Aquinnah. She arrived on Martha’s Vineyard sight-unseen for a catering job back in 2018, left, and then returned again in 2021. In between, she said she served stints as a cake decorator, sommelier, and private chef to Washington D.C.’s high society. 

“The first time I left Martha’s Vineyard I took clay from the cliffs back with me,” she said. “When I came back, I went to the beach and returned all of that clay and apologized for taking it. A few days later, I met Juli Vanderhoop.” 

Ms. Vanderhoop is the owner and founder of Orange Peel Bakery in Aquinnah. This summer, Ms. Vanderhoop struck a deal with Ms. Fleming to let her use the commercial kitchen space at Orange Peel for her catering business. 

It was thanks to the stability Ms. Vanderhoop offered, and opportunities like the film festival and NAACP’s Taste of Juneteenth event, that Ms. Fleming said she was able to move into her current space at the Ritz. Previously, Ms. Fleming had been fired from nearly every job she had on the Island, she said, and at one point had been living out of her car.

“Do you want to know why it’s called Loud Kitchen?” she asked. “I was let go from a place once and when I asked why, they just said I was ‘too loud.’”

“I knew I needed to make a place where I could be loud in my own way,” she continued.

While Ms. Fleming’s culinary career has endured various stops and starts, it began with one constant.

“Growing up... I always had to figure out how to feed everybody,” she said. 

Ms. Fleming grew up in Maryland with a single mother and two brothers, often moving from place to place. No matter where they were, she said, her mom continued to play host to dozens of friends and family members, finding some way to feed the crowd with whatever they had on hand. 

Cooking became the thing she knew best, she said.

Since then, her catering career has taken her to both high-profile Vineyard events and D.C. political functions, but the fare at Loud Kitchen most closely resembles those first family gatherings. The menu features classic bar food — wings, fries, and sliders — with a slight Southern twang. Loud Kitchen also offers several vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options, from buffalo broccoli and cauliflower to zucchini fritters.

Ritz Café owner Larkin Stallings said the menu and concept fit perfectly with what he had envisioned for his business.

“I had been looking for someone to take over [the kitchen space] for a while and her name kept coming up,” Mr. Stallings said. “When we first spoke, I was blown away...She came up with something that was totally hers, but at the same time she really took a look at what the Ritz is.”

Since their first meeting, Mr. Stallings said the two have collaborated on future menu items and concepts, even floating the idea of a brunch menu. However, Ms. Fleming acknowledged that operating a business on-Island is no easy feat, and said she is ready to turn on a dime if needed. 

“I don’t want to limit myself,” she said of her still-evolving menu. “If something isn’t working over the winter or needs to change in the summer, I can switch it up.... Whatever it needs to be, it’ll be.”

Still, Ms. Fleming said she is grateful to have a solid support system helping her through, whether they be industry peers or hungry customers.

“I feel at home here more than anywhere else,” she said. “This is where I found my community.”