ST. PETERSBURG – Any Burg native knows Atwater’s and knows the name is synonymous with St. Pete’s history of delicious soul food.
The family restaurant’s dynasty reaches back to 1952, and while the incarnations, locations and family members on-hand have changed over the years, it’s a community staple with a name that instantly triggers memories of a favorite dish.
Last Sunday, Aug. 5, Eric Atwater – also known as the CookE Man – was back on Ninth Street (Martin Luther King Street) and 22nd Avenue South during the restaurant’s annual back-to-school giveaway, preparing for the upcoming re-opening of the restaurant.
“Atwater’s is back!” asserted the son who started off in his parents’ restaurant as a baker decades ago.
Atwater stated that the public would soon be treated to a breakfast, lunch and dinner menu once again – offering chicken, ribs, chopped pork and a weekly “Soul Food Sunday” special menu including everything from oxtail to fried fish, cornbread to macaroni and cheese.
“My mama and daddy raised me to do what I do and to give back, from the time I was a little boy; they raised me to just work and give,” he shared, musing over the resilience that keeps him dedicated to bringing the eatery back.
Gesturing to the tables of school supplies and children and community members gathered to enjoy complimentary fish sandwiches, he added, “This is what we do…we give.”
He said he’d like to inspire young people to know they also can achieve if they put their minds to it. He had some advice for those who might be considering starting their own business but have doubts.
“You can’t be scared; it’s easy to be scared, but I like challenges,” Atwater explained. “Young people also like taking challenges, so I say to them, ‘challenge yourself to go into business, challenge yourself to work, challenge yourself to take care of your children and be successful.’ If you do that, you’ll make a difference and be an example — and you’ll make the world a better place.”
Following the tradition of having multiple generations of Atwaters working in the family business, this past weekend he was joined by his 14-year-old daughter Erika, who’s been at his side through various incarnations of the family business – including a stint at the Skyway Mall from 2015 to 2017.
“My daughter is a blessing,” acknowledged Atwater, sharing his pride over her accomplishments and adding that annual back-to-school event was initially her idea. Atwater encouraged her to have the event every year since she first mentioned wanting to do one as a young child.
Ericka, who was turned 14 on Aug. 6, shared how she was inspired to hold the event. “I wanted to give back to the community because a lot of people in the community have given to me.”
Among the community supporters was Antonio “Top-Flight” Fuller, who’s known the family for decades.
“We’ve known each other 35-40 years. I used to come here when his mom and dad had the place. Eric is doing a good job trying to bring it back. With help from the community, he’ll make it happen.”
Also on hand at Sunday’s event was Mono’s Cups, giving away free flavored shaved ice cups to the kids.
Erika credited father with teaching her from a young age to be a hard worker and expressed her hopes that each year the event would continue to grow.
And she proudly acknowledged the new attraction at this year’s school giveaway: “This year we have jump-houses.”
To reach J.A. Jones, email firstname.lastname@example.org.