ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A new dining concept is taking shape in South St. Pete, hoping to highlight the city's diversity. It'll be a cornerstone for The Deuces neighborhood revitalization project.
"It's a blessing to be here," Betterway Bar-B-Que owner William Gravely said.
Working inside the kitchen of the Manhattan Casino is a full-circle moment for William Gravely, even though he remembers it as Fortunoff's.
"We used to hang out in here. So this is like coming back home," Gravely said.
After several failed ventures coming in and out of the Manhattan Casino, 22 South Food Hall is breathing new life into the crowned jewel of the Deuces neighborhood.
"We want it to give opportunities for those who may have had like food truck experience, or maybe even on catering experience to bring their product and make a name for themselves," 22 South owner Gregg Murray said.
Murray said the restaurant's sign six-month contracts. They can decide to renew or leave.
"The goal is not to keep them here. The goal is for them to grow and move on and to bring newer, fresh blood into the area," Murray said.
Murray says seven restaurants will work in one kitchen. They're Betterway Bar-B-Que, Three Generations, Shokkan, Irie Mon, VJ's, St. Pete Bowls, and Ray's Vegan Soul Food.
Five of them are Black-owned. One is Asian-owned, making 80% of the restaurants minority-owned. Murray also talked about how diverse his co-owners are. Murray is a Baptist preacher from New York; he says another owner represents the LGBTQ+ community, another is the son of Portuguese immigrants.
"That's what diversity looks like. That's what a seamless city looks like, and that's what we represent," Murray said.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck before the restaurant opened. Former Bucs player Vincent Jackson was also involved in the vision of 22 South. He passed away in February but lives on through the business.
"It just made sense to honor him in some way," Murray said. "We still feel his spirit here in the restaurant, and we [named] one of our venues VJ's after Vincent, which is American food," Murray said.
22 South is also honoring its roots as one of the only stops for premier Black entertainers. The historic Jordan ballroom is now an event hall.
"That boasts the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Sammy Davis, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington," Murray said. "This place was alive."
Gravely says he heard about the magic of the Manhattan Casino from his mother and now hopes to make a little of his own.
"My grandfather's house and property was two blocks up the street on 6th Avenue and 19th street, and we're carrying his name from his cleaner," Gravely said. "This is an opportunity for us to take our name to the next level and leave a legacy for our family."
This venture is a part of the City of St. Pete's revitalization project for South St. Pete. There are plans for Deuces Rising, which will go across the street from the Manhattan Casino. In March, the city just approved funding for the initial design, including 26 workforce townhomes.
The city also plans to re-locate the Carter G. Woodson African-American Museum. The city told us they're hoping to break ground early next year.
You can check out 22 South Food Hall's Facebook for more information.