Atwater’s Community Project – a cleanup and renovation — gets underway tomorrow and Sunday at 895 22nd Ave. S., from 10-5 p.m. Volunteers should bring clothes they don’t mind getting dirty, gloves, masks, protective goggles and wear closed-toe shoes.
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – When Eric Atwater, owner of the historic Atwater’s Cafeteria in St. Pete, announced he would retire last February, he was hopeful a new generation of the family would step up to uphold the family legacy of the historic eatery.
His vision has been answered by his nephew, ONLYONETWO, an entrepreneur and musician committed to seeing the family’s community treasure continue to thrive.
Atwater’s, located at 895 22nd Ave. S, has been a food destination since the ‘60s, and now ONLYONETWO, known as “Two” by family, is ready to take the first step towards shepherding the historic location into the future.
Born and raised in St. Pete’s Harbordale neighborhood, Two’s mother, Barbara, is the oldest of Elzo and Mattie Atwater’s nine children.
“My mother gave me the name Two since birth, and I’ve been called that my whole life. I added the ‘ONLYONE’ when I started creating short films and music,” noted the artist, realizing it would enable people searching for him on the internet to differentiate from others with “Two” or “2” in their monikers.
He spent most of his childhood there on MLK Street and 22nd Avenue South, where the restaurant was a second home. Like his uncle Eric, Two was always there and ready to do whatever needed to be done at the restaurant, and he also knew what he was doing was for the “betterment” of the family.
“I remember it always being a staple and a community meeting spot. It was always my home away from home. If I weren’t at home, I was at the restaurant. Sweeping floors, bussing tables, washing dishes, being a server.”
Two remembers his grandfather being a man of very few words but who, when he did speak, was well respected and highly revered.
“I remember my grandfather at the ‘Facts Table’” — the name given to the designated spot used by his grandfather Elzo to have all his meetings with friends — “listening and observing everything,” Two recalled.
He also remembered his grandmother Mattie “being such a loving and welcoming soul, offering anyone in the community a place to work or giving free food to less fortunate families. We used to have massive Thanksgiving and Christmas parties where they would invite family members, church members and close friends. There was just so much love flowing through the building.”
And now, Two affirmed, “I’m just trying to bring the love back.”
There is also the legacy that the family space represented, and for Two: hope, possibility, Black entrepreneurship and “something to wake up and be proud of.”
Growing up in St. Pete, Two spent his school years at Rio Vista Elementary, John Hopkins Middle School, and Gibbs High School. Fascinated by music from childhood, another of Two’s uncles, Michael Atwater, owned six record stores, including Jam-A-Lot Music. Two spent his hours at the music stores when he wasn’t working at the restaurant.
“It was like my escape from reality. I could just walk in, put on headphones, go to another world.”
He played in his middle school band, and by the time he was attending the University of Central Florida, he was spending hours in libraries and books stores studying and researching everything related to the musical craft and business while also interning at KDS Studios in Orlando.
“I met an engineer by the name of Tommie Hicks, Jr., who brought me under his wing and really showed me the ropes. From there, I began making songs and uploading them on MySpace and then YouTube … anyway I could get my music heard on the internet. I was exhausting all avenues.”
Still, Two always had plans on working with his cousins and consulting with their elders on what they could do with the Atwater’s space, but lacking funds, “it was always hard to turn a dream into reality.”
But a recent accident and tragedy was a “reminder that time waits for no man, and we must live in the moment,” influencing his decision to move forward with the family dream now.
“The plan was always to save capital and reinvest it into the family business, but since COVID and the recent gentrification in the city, times have been hard for all of us. That’s why I’m reaching out to the community, the family, the whole Tampa Bay area and my fans telling them that we need help. I can’t let this legacy die.”
His immediate goal is to clean the space out and get the building back to good working condition before sitting down with his family to discuss what they think will be the best route to ensure the future of Atwater’s legacy while supporting its foundation — the community.
“I believe generational wealth and financial literacy are lacking in the Black community on a global scale. It is extremely important that our children and future entrepreneurs see examples of Black ownership in our communities. It is very important that we keep it in the family because we have a legacy that has affected so many lives to this day,” Two asserted.
The Atwater Community Project will be looking for sponsors and grants. To donate to assist with the ongoing project, contributions can be made via Venmo at @sevawwaves, CashApp at $onlyonetwo or PayPal via email email@example.com.
“I want to give all honor, thanks, and praise to God for always showing me the right path and allowing me to keep the faith even in dark times.”
He thanked his grandparents for teaching the family respect, integrity, maintaining healthy relationships, time management skills and keeping their faith in God.
Two also credited his grandparents with instructing them on having good manners, empathy, a positive attitude, love, inner beauty and passion. Also, for “letting us know regardless of how much money you have, it’s important to keep in mind that money isn’t everything, and no matter the race, color, or creed, we must treat everyone as an equal.”
The cleanup days for Atwater’s Community Project will be held on Jan. 21 and 22, from 10-5 p.m. at 895 22nd Ave. S.
Volunteers should bring clothes they don’t mind getting dirty, gloves, masks, protective goggles and wear closed-toe shoes.
Click here for more information on the project.