ST. PETERSBURG – If you’re taste buds are craving the Cajun flavors of New Orleans, you’re in luck. A new restaurant is set to open mid-October in Midtown and it’s sure to delight the senses.
The Brayboys over the last few years have taken up the role of entrepreneurs, buying up property in south St. Petersburg and renovating the buildings to house small businesses in the area. Their latest endeavor is that of Chief’s Creole Café and it promises to deliver on flavor.
“I was raised on that cooking,” said Elihu Brayboy, who along with his wife Carolyn, have salvaged recipes from the good ole’ days of steaming hot jambalaya trying to bring back the type of flavor that Brayboy remembers from his childhood. “When my mother passed away, I didn’t realize that everybody didn’t eat like that,” he said.
Brayboy emphasized their food is not soul food, and listed off some of the home cooking that will be available in a few weeks. Their signature dish will be a Creole gumbo complete with seafood, sausage and chicken, with other gumbo selections available for the more picky palate.
Talks are in the works to import crawfish when in season from Louisiana. Brayboy plans to offer it up in a boil, like locals do to crab, including corn, potatoes and shrimp.
“We have a beautiful patio seating area where we can put the tables out there and have an all you can eat situation,” he said emphasizing his willingness to cater to special events.
The property sits on the corner of 22nd Street and 9th Avenue South, an area Brayboy knows hasn’t been popular since its heyday when it was “the place to be.” The area has been plagued with crime, neglect and a shifting of priorities.
But as you pull up to the coral building with its outdoor patio, those old time memories when bands used to frequent the area and the Sidney Harden corner grocery, which incidentally is the restaurants new home, used to be the place to be, come flooding back and you begin to feel the neighborhood coming alive again.
It’s no secret that even though money has been funneled into the area in the last few years with the building of the new St. Petersburg College campus and the restoration of the Manhattan Casino, that this part of town is struggling to get back on the map.
“It is very difficult in this city to restore historic buildings when people don’t initially have the appreciation for that restoration,” said Brayboy who realized after buying the property that banks were reluctant to loan to them due to the restaurant’s location. “The buildings are called the ghetto and the area, no matter how much work we’ve done in it, is still referred to as ‘that area of town.’”
But even though the property was initially raw, no landscaping, nothing but a sandy lot, Brayboy hopes the community will forget the past, fast forward to 2014, and take a second look now that some tender loving care has been bestowed upon it.
“We’ve been working on this for almost two years,” he said, “so to us it’s like months delayed.”
The inside will instantly astound patrons. Vintage artwork hangs on the walls, while granite tops every table. Twelve-foot tin ceilings speak to the historical significance of the place, originally constructed in 1939. “You really got to put your eyes on it,” Brayboy said. “It’s a wow factor.”
The pergola leads from Chief’s Creole Café to the Brayboy owned ice cream parlor next door. So after a little sizzling hot, patrons can cool down with a scoop of tasty ice cream.
He hopes the neighborhood and the St. Petersburg community will recognize the hard work that has gone into every detail of the restaurant. From rehabbing the building, to furnishing its interior, to allocating a menu and picking the staff, the Brayboys have dedicated countless hours on creating an inviting New Orleans type ambiance that is sure to please.
As for whether or not there will be another addition to the Brayboys’ corner, they also own a fitness center, consignment shop and a hair salon, Brayboy can’t say for sure.
“The only thing we can focus on at this time is getting this restaurant up and running,” he said, “and hopefully it meets the community’s needs.”
If the soft opening Chief’s Creole Café had Tues., Sept. 30 is any indication of what business will be like once the café is up and going, you can expect great food, great music and a packed to capacity house.
The Brayboys gave St. Pete a sneak peek of what’s to come. Lucky patrons were treated to gumbo, Spanish cornbread, potato salad and delicious bread pudding for desert.
The soft opening also served as a test to the staff. Brayboy does not want any surprises come opening night.
“We wanted to get the wrinkles out of the operation. How the staff flows with each other, the taste and the quality of food is very important, did we hit it or did we miss it and to see how they would act under pressure.”
The Brayboys spent the night asking for suggestions on the food, drinks and atmosphere, but there is only one suggestion that this reporter feel they should heed and that is get ready. Get ready for the influx of hungry crowds looking for some down home Cajun delights.
To reach Holly Kestenis, email email@example.com