ST. PETERSBURG — When Carolyn Brayboy signed on to her husband's plan to buy three buildings on Midtown's 22nd Street S, she knew it was a big undertaking to renovate the long-empty properties and find the right entrepreneurs to occupy them. Now she has even more work cut out for her since she and her husband, Elihu Brayboy, have decided they themselves will be the entrepreneurs they were searching for.
The two 2,000-square-foot buildings have multiple shop spaces within them. The couple plan to open an ice cream parlor and a men's consignment shop in October in the purple one at 909 22nd St. S and a restaurant called Chief's Cajun Cuisine in the salmon one at 903 22nd St. S in December.
After those get going, the recently retired couple hope to start a small culinary program for students who will receive hands-on training in the restaurant. The vision for another 10,000-square-foot vacant building at 951 22nd St. S has yet to emerge. But it will.
"We are part of this community. Twenty-second Street has a rich history and we want to see it come back," said Carolyn Brayboy, 64. Small-framed, she flits quickly from building to building stepping over porcelain sinks and stacks of lumber, warning others to watch their step, talking one minute about the deals she worked on vintage chandeliers and the next about her mother-in-law's Cajun cooking.
"We will hire a chef, but we have a lot of her recipes," Brayboy said, describing Mary Brayboy Jones, a longtime nurse at Mercy Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center who was also a caterer creating meals from her native Louisiana. Her husband was a music promoter and brought performers such as Earth, Wind & Fire, the O'Jays and Teddy Pendergrass to Florida. Once they tasted Mary Brayboy Jones' food, they asked for her to cook for the cast and crew anytime they played in the Sunshine State.
Carolyn Brayboy recently retired after 39 years at IBM. Elihu Brayboy, also 64, is a retired stockbroker. They have invested and managed many residential properties along the years but this is their first big move into commercial real estate. Public records show they spent close to $500,000 buying the properties. She declined to detail how much they are spending on renovations besides saying "we're investing a lot."
Carolyn Brayboy is making the most of every dollar. She found crown molding at the Habitat for Humanity discount supply store. She took plantation shutters for the restaurant out of a condo they owned in Orlando even though they were too tall but credits her carpenters for sizing them down to fit perfectly. The intricately patterned concrete floors of the ice cream parlor and consignments store, Brayboy painted herself. She's refinishing original sinks pulled from several of the buildings for the restaurant's restroom.
The side of the restaurant building at 903 22nd St. S that will serve as the kitchen was once Sidney Harden's corner grocery, a gathering spot where you could get opossum meat or 10 cookies for a dollar, Brayboy learned from historical research. The dining room side was Washington's Beer Garden. It still has an original part of the bar built into the wall with a mirror and shelves. The ceilings feature decorative tin.
Diners can also eat outside at a courtyard where a fountain is being installed and there will be a take-out window on the patio.
The culinary school will be small and just serve a few people at a time, but Brayboy hopes it can make a difference in a few lives.
"We need more opportunities here," she said. "We have a lot of ex-offenders in this area, people who made a mistake and now they can't go out and get a job because of it."
The City Council will decide in October if the Brayboys' buildings get a historic designation that will grant them a small tax break. The city's Community Preservation Committee has recommended it.
"I think they are doing a great job. It's very exciting to see them bringing those buildings back, not just for the history but for the neighborhood,'' said Gary Jones, the city's development manager for the area. "The Harden grocery building is a place everybody remembers.''
"They really are pioneers. There has not been a lot of investment on the retail side until now," he said. He said he thinks the so-called "Brayboy buildings" will establish the critical mass needed for more consumers and investors. He predicts the street will become a destination with their new businesses and 3 Daughters Brewing at 222 Second St. S and Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food at 642 22nd St. S all open around the end of the year.
Reviving 22nd Street S appears to be a family affair. The Brayboys' daughter, Ramona Brayboy-Reio, and her husband, Damon Reio, opened a gym and Natural Vanity hair salon at 1025 22nd St. S two years ago.
Carolyn and Elihu Brayboy's consignment store will be named Elihu's, because its namesake loves nice clothing. It will carry some women's clothing, but mostly men's.
The ice cream parlor is yet to be named. That task lies in the hands of the Brayboys' 9-year-old granddaughters. The cousins live elsewhere but stay with their grandparents in the summer. "We want them to take ownership in it," Brayboy said, "because they are going to work there in the summers."
Her enthusiasm has spread beyond the family. The long faded sign that hangs above the South City Grocery & Meat Market across the street has recently been replaced and the owner has talked with Brayboy's painters about touching up his business.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.