Deuces Wild: Why Midtown Is The Community On The Rise

If you've been following the recent  buzz around the Burg, then you've heard of the Brayboys. The couple may just be the hardest working pair in St. Pete right now. Today, we were lucky enough to get a tour of the soon to open Chief's Creole Cafe and were also treated to a brief history lesson about the Deuces.

The concept for Chief's Creole Cafe, located at 909 22nd Street S., comes from Elihu's mother's love for cooking. "My mother would cook every night. She didn't just cook for the family though. She didn't know a serving size under ten."

During our visit, Brayboy highlighted some of the historical marks that decorate the Deuces. "The Cafe was once Haden's Grocery," Brayboy said. "When we first got here, the building was boarded up and abandoned. If my wife and I hadn't come back, we'd be looking at a decaying thing and a vacant lot."

Brayboy spoke with passion and urgency. "I walked these streets as a child. I shopped here, I ate here, I made friends here. I learned about music and spirituality living here. This is the place to be. I want to show the rest of the city why."

We then went inside into the recently opened Ice Cream parlor serving Working Cow Ice Cream. The inside smells like a dreamy boardwalk with dark chocolate jimmies and crisp rolls.

"We started investing in Midtown back in 2008," Brayboy said. "It started with the old Merriweather building. It used to be the hotel for the major African-American athletes and artists that would come through St. Pete. We couldn't stand to see it decay."

"Then we brought in the Ice Cream parlor, the consignment shop and the Art Gallery." The art gallery provides a venue for established and striving artists painting with an afro-American aesthetic.

Finally we arrived back at the Creole Cafe. Handcut marble and stone tables fill the spacious dining room. A massive black mantle piece leans against the wall in the far left hand corner of the restaurant. "This piece was from the original building. It used to be a part of the old George Washington Tavern," says Brayboy.

Lime green walls and a lacquered booth enhance the classic and jazzy atmosphere the couple has cultivated.  A stovetop with several burners and two brand new refrigerator units sit in the back of the kitchen area.

Carolyn Brayboy sits at her expansive desk booking a party for an eager customer. The Cafe's presence seems to have added an electric energy to Midtown. The customer is hoping to hold a family party there in October. Brayboy retorts, "I love it. It's putting pressure on us to get this done. I like the pressure."

That's where the St. Pete community comes into play. The Brayboy's need to raise funds to staff their restaurant. Stay tuned to the Brayboy's official website along with I Love The Burg as they prepare to launch a kick starter campaign. Supporters donating $22 will receive a decadent meal for two at the pending Cafe.

When I asked Brayboy why they put so much effort, time and money into reviving Midtown, he considered the question before delivering a powerful response. "We felt a spiritual obligation to preserve the area," said Brayboy. "This is our home. We love the Deuces and the people that live here. More than a community, Midtown is a family. We want to invite the city to become a part of it."

Written by Andrew Harlan

Andrew Harlan is in his third year as Writer/Editor of iLovetheBurg.com. New York Times bestselling author Andre Dubus III has said of him, “Andrew Harlan has a sharp and discerning eye for detail that deftly captures character and landscape." He has published fiction and poetry in Sabal and Prime Number Literary Magazine. He graduated with honors from Eckerd College in 2013 with a B.A. in Creative Writing and a minor in Literature. He can be reached by phone: (727) 896-3435 or email: andrew@rkc.me