Food, culture and community-building are indivisibly intertwined in Gainesville. In honor of Black History Month, the Avenue has compiled a list of some of the Black-owned restaurants, food trucks and cafés in Gainesville.
Bone of my Bone BBQ
When it comes to barbecue, Allen Craig lives by a single motto: “Good ribs don’t need sauce.”
Craig and his business partner, Akim Lettsome, started the food truck Bone of my Bone BBQ LLC in 2017. With four years of experience serving barbecue to the Gainesville community, Craig said his goal is to pack the meat with enough flavor that customers are satisfied with the ribs alone.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Craig said Bone of my Bone BBQ is slowly working back up to full-time service. While the food truck is currently more of a passion project than a full-time job, he said he would like to one day reach that point with the business.
Even in work, family always comes first, Craig said.
When Bone of my Bone BBQ pulls up to a brewery for the day, customers can expect to see the entire Craig family pitching in — his wife helping cook sides and his daughter holding up signs to attract passersby. Knowing his and Lettsome’s kids can watch their fathers cook and enjoy the experience, Craig said, is the most important part of the job.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t have the support of our families, it’s not going to work at all,” Craig said.
Maple Street Biscuit Company
When Jason Hurst first got involved with Maple Street Biscuit Company, he was a commercial real estate agent.
Hurst originally had no interest in the restaurant beyond helping secure new locations, he said, but everything changed after learning about the company’s mission of community building.
Hurst now owns two Maple Street Biscuit Company locations: Butler Plaza and Tioga Town Center. Connecting and giving back to the Gainesville and Newberry communities, Hurst said, has been the greatest joy.
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Since opening the Gainesville location, 3904 SW Archer Road, in 2017, Hurst has facilitated several events aimed at community service. In 2019, Maple Street Biscuit Company partnered with The Caden Project to organize Biscuits and Bears — delivering teddy bears and biscuits to Shands Children’s Hospital. And in Dec. 2020, the restaurant collaborated with Created Gainesville in a campaign against human trafficking in Alachua County.
In response to shortages of essential supplies, Maple Street Biscuit Company began functioning as a pantry during the pandemic.
“At one point, we were selling more toilet paper rolls than biscuits,” Hurst said.
Hurst also said he wants Maple Street Biscuit Company to be a place of healing for the Newberry area, a city with “a deep history of racial inequity.” Both locations employ a diverse staff, he said, and the human connections made within the restaurant work toward offsetting racial barriers.
“We were able to break down some of those racial walls that have been so persistent, especially in the Deep South,” Hurst said. “On some small scale, we feel like we’ve had the opportunity to effectuate change.”
Chef Empowerment’s Underground Kitchen
Carl Watts wasn’t always a chef.
Watts began working as a Gang Intervention Specialist with the Gainesville Police Department’s Black on Black Crime Task Force in 2011, mentoring at-risk youth and adults for six years. Desiring a change, Watts later started his culinary career at Blue Gill Quality Food, working his way up from dishwasher to executive chef.
In 2017, Watts established Chef Empowerment — a program that combined his love of food and mentorship by offering vocational training and employment to at-risk youth.
In order to accumulate enough revenue to keep this program running, Watts has also managed Underground Kitchen, a dine-in restaurant at 1001 NW 5th Ave., since June 2020. A second location, also on Fifth Ave., is predicted to open for curbside service in about two weeks, Watts said.
With both of his restaurants located on Fifth Avenue, Watts said he remains astounded by the support offered by residents and businesses of the historically black community — and he’s determined to give back to those who embraced him.
“Going into Black History Month, I’m really focusing on the art of giving,” Watts said. “We’re going to fulfill our commitment.”
Watts said despite carrying a lot of pride in being a Black business owner, it isn’t easy. Still, considering the racial injustices that continue around the world, he said, he’s dedicated to doing his part and giving back to communities often considered “challenged.”
“My business has a global agenda, but we’re going to fight that global agenda locally,” Watts said.
According to the World Food Programme, COVID-19 has pushed 270 million people across the world toward the brink of starvation. Watts said he wants to know he’s a part of the restaurants actively working to attack this statistic — all without leaving Gainesville.
“Even 1% of that number is impossible for our small Black business,” Watts said. “But, at the end of the day, isn’t it a good feeling to know that we helped somebody out?”
Reggae Shack Café
Restaurateur Omar Oselimo has always been drawn to cooking.
In 2003, Oselimo combined his passion for food and his Jamaican-born heritage, establishing Reggae Shack Café. Located at 619 W University Ave., the restaurant seeks to provide customers with an authentic Jamaican experience — food, music, culture and atmosphere included.
Dave Gunn, 32, said he eats at Reggae Shack Café every time he travels through Gainesville. His support for the restaurant stems from its unique and flavorful food, welcoming environment and inclusive, vegan-friendly menu, he said.
“When I think of Gainesville all the way from upstate New York, I think of Reggae Shack,” Gunn wrote in a message.
Gainesville Soul Food Kitchen
Gainesville Soul Food Kitchen, located at 2201 NE 2nd St., brings a taste of traditional soul food to the community. Boasting a largely family-oriented energy, the location describes itself as a “Fried Chicken, Green Bean eating kick your feet up” type of establishment, according to its Facebook.
An extension of the boutique Urban Thread, Harper’s Corner is a local coffee shop located at 1236 NW 21st Ave. The venue is devoted to providing a unique space for members of the community to form connections and make memories.
Lucille’s Southern Kitchen
Both family- and Black-owned, Lucille’s Southern Kitchen specializes in home-cooked soul food, and, according to Yelp reviews, the service makes you “feel like family.” The restaurant is located at 2308 SE Hawthorne Road.
Contact Veronica Nocera at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @vernocera.
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Veronica Nocera is a first-year Journalism major with a History minor. This is her first semester on staff for The Alligator, where she works as Avenue News Assistant. She also writes for Rowdy Magazine.