Make us your home page
Instagram

Shirley's Soul Food restaurant, a St. Petersburg icon, has closed

Shirley’s Soul Food, a 50-seat diner at 1789 34th St. S, served its last meal on July 28 after struggling to stay afloat.

DIRK SHADD | Times (2005)

Shirley’s Soul Food, a 50-seat diner at 1789 34th St. S, served its last meal on July 28 after struggling to stay afloat.

Shirley's Soul Food Diner, where a community gathered for conversation and counsel over eggs, bacon, sausage and grits or meats fried and smothered and served with sides of greens and blackeye peas, closed suddenly last week.

For regulars, the end did not come without warning. A sign on the door announced the July 28 closing. Another hung behind the counter lined with aging stools.

"We will be officially closing today at 4 p.m. Thank you for your patronage throughout the years,'' the handwritten sign visible through the locked door at 1789 34th St. S said Monday.

Owner Shirley Tigg, 71, could not be reached for comment, though. At her tiny Midtown home, where the dirt yard had recently been raked of twigs and leaves, a man said people no longer had money to eat out.

The African-American community has lost an icon, said former educator the Rev. Martin Rainey. To St. Petersburg NAACP branch president Ray Tampa, it was Tigg who was an institution.

"No matter where she's gone, people have followed her cooking. I used to love to go there and get her meatloaf or turkey wing dinners with blackeye peas, yellow rice, corn bread. There were times where I would order two meals at once,'' Tampa said.

Those who frequented the 1950s-style diner say Shirley's was more than a place to eat.

"I could put my fliers in there about any event I was having, or other people from the community could put their fliers in there. When things went on in the community, there was dialogue in there,'' said activist Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter.

"You got these little old men, the little deacons, they eat and give ideas and people come to talk to them. It was like we were like a family. It was like back in the day, when our community was a family.''

It was at Shirley's that Mayor Bill Foster held his first public breakfast meeting earlier this year. He had heard that business was down and encouraged those who met with him that day to buy a meal. The boost in business at the 50-seat restaurant was temporary, however. In June, the Florida Department of Revenue issued a warrant for $1,550.60, including penalty, interest and fees, for delinquent sales tax.

Lassiter, who said she has known Tigg for many years, encouraged the restaurant owner to seek help from the city of St. Petersburg's Business Assistance Center. In fact, said Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj, assistant director of community enrichment and the center's manager, the office had been working with Tigg since the beginning of 2009, offering cost-cutting ideas, marketing strategies and help applying for a loan through the stimulus program.

"She was trying to put some of this in place,'' Ojah-Maharaj said.

"In the meantime, she was trying to carry on her business and trying to keep it afloat, because this is her passion and this is her life.''

Lassiter said Tigg opened her business after retiring from GTE, where she had worked for almost 30 years. The soul food restaurant, which opened on 16th Street S in 1986, quickly became popular.

"There were lines of people. The seating was always taken,'' community leader Watson Haynes remembered.

The popularity continued after the move to 34th Street S. Lassiter even convinced then-council member Foster to give free legal advice at the diner. Foster's only requirement was that anyone who showed up had to buy a meal.

"Shirley's was a place where you were guaranteed to run into community family and some of the leadership,'' said state Rep. Darryl Rouson.

"It was inexpensive, good down-home cooking. I used to like the turkey wings in like a smothered sauce and every now and then she'd have some oxtails and the macaroni and cheese was always good."

"Shirley would cook it, cook it right, then it was gone,'' Haynes said. "People knew it was always fresh, always cooked the same day and if they didn't get there in time, it was gone.''

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Shirley's Soul Food restaurant, a St. Petersburg icon, has closed 08/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 5:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  2. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.
  3. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sells house for $3 million to new player

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's multi-million Davis Islands home is staying in the Lightning family. Yzerman sold his 6,265-square-foot house Monday to new defenseman Dan Girardi for $3 million.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman sold for $3 million Monday to Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. | [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  4. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce

    Business

    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  5. For the first time in Florida, a white person is set to be executed for killing a black person.

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man Thursday for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with the help of a drug that has never been used before in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]