Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy are putting the final touches on a new Creole restaurant # scheduled to open Nov. 1 # on St. Petersburg’s historic 22nd Street S. But it is just as important for them to welcome people to the neighborhood and share its history.
“I’m Mr. B and this is Mrs. B,” Elihu Brayboy likes to say when introducing himself and his wife.
The Brayboys, both 65, are investing $800,000 to buy and restore four buildings along the street, which was known as The Deuces when it was the main street of black St. Petersburg during decades of segregation and discrimination.
The restaurant is at the intersection of 22nd Street and Ninth Avenue S, a five-minute drive from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus.
The Brayboys are proud that the entryway and open-style kitchen of their Chief’s Creole Café used to be Sidney Harden’s grocery store, serving black customers from 1942 until 1992.
“It breaks my heart when people see an old building and think they’re seeing just an old building,” said Mr. B. “Harden’s grocery was a cultural market with things like chitterlings, rabbit and possum. We feel so blessed to be saving this building. This building meant a lot to a lot of people.”
Chitterlings and possum are not on the menu of the new restaurant, which will feature red beans and rice with andouille sausage, three Creole gumbos, jambalaya and other Louisiana favorites at a price range of $9.99 to $15.99.
The “chief” in the restaurant’s name refers to Elihu Brayboy’s late mother, Mary Brayboy Jones, whose specialty was the Creole cooking of her native Louisiana. She got her nickname from her take-charge personality. Some of the dishes on the menu will be prepared from her recipes.
“Chief was raised around great cooking by her mother and other relatives,” said Brayboy. “After she moved to St. Petersburg … she ran a small catering business serving famous entertainers and their crews who came to town.”
The Brayboys’ restaurant is two blocks south of Sylvia’s — a soul food restaurant that opened last year in a restored building where Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie performed during a time of evident segregation — and seven blocks south of 3 Daughters Brewing, a popular night spot.
Memories of the people who lived, worked, survived and thrived in segregated black neighborhoods are important to the Brayboys. They want people to know that amid the tough conditions of segregation, there were many positive experiences.
The Brayboys grew up and dated as teenagers in the neighborhood – now called Midtown – that developed along 22nd Street S. They remember their community as a place where people were deeply connected, pulled together and treasured their close, personal ties.
Now the Brayboys are working to preserve some of the original architecture and structures along the rest of the street.
“We purchased our first building on the 22nd Street S corridor in 2008,” said Mr. B. “In six years, we have not had a single incident . . . no break-ins, robberies, vandalism or graffiti.”
In addition to their new restaurant, they have opened an art gallery, a consignment store and an ice cream parlor. Their daughter, Ramona Reio, owns a hair salon and their son-in-law, Damon Reio, owns a fitness center in one of their buildings. The Brayboys are happy with the neighborhood.