Part One: In the middle of St. Pete, there’s New Orleans!
ST. PETERSBURG – Peach walls are painted with jazz murals that come to life beside an outdoor courtyard with the background music of a flowing fountain. Just a tuba and a saxophone away is the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum.
Chief’s Creole Café is run by both Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, but if you look around you’ll see Mrs. Brayboy pounding nails and painting walls and doors. They do a role reversal: he shops and manages relationships while she reupholsters and goes to Home Depot. That’s how they run this mom and pop restaurant with 10 employees.
Chief’s just celebrated its third year on 22nd Street South on Nov.1, and the Brayboys are now opening up a meeting room and a new barbeque place, Chief’s Smokehouse, adjacent to the courtyard.
John “Geech” Black
“I’m most excited about bringing authentic St. Pete barbeque back to 22nd Street,” said Carolyn.” “Geech’s barbeque sauce is famous on this street. Geech had a barbeque stand and people waited around the block. He passed and nobody had his sauce recipe. Recently a guy came to us and said he has the recipe and he will supply it.”
Carolyn is the daughter of Georgia sharecroppers. Her father has a third-grade education and her mother an eighth-grade education, but through hard work and determination she went to Florida State University in Tallahassee and earned her MBA and then went to work for IBM.
Her mother wanted her to be a math teacher but she switched her major to business because she loved math. Ironically, even though Mrs. B, as she’s called, runs a restaurant, her mother told her not to cook.
“Your husband will do that for you. You need to focus on your education,” her mother once told her.
Education matters at Chief’s, too. Mrs. B. trains people in cooking, she takes her employees to conferences and food conventions and she’s known for giving people second chances. Maybe you don’t have a perfect background, but you do need a good attitude, to show up on time, make a commitment and show passion for what you do.
They don’t just give you a guide to read, they pair you with someone more senior to help in training. You get a food handler’s license and there are weekly staff meetings, training in food safety and that’s the Chief’s philosophy. And, employees are given the freedom to create new recipes or make classic recipes better.
Besides hard work and education, the employees are not just your waiter, they are your friends. Chief’s restaurant gives you a New Orleans feeling—and you really do feel like you are away from hard times and from the world when you are at Chief’s—you feel happy and relaxed on their patio!
Kayianna Hughes is a seventh grader at Academy Prep in St. Petersburg. She plans to become a photojournalist.