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Owner of Atwater's Cafeteria dies at 64

For 20 years, the Atwater Cafeteria has served southern-style cooking seven days a week. On Monday, for the first time in its history, the popular cafeteria closed its doors for a day of mourning.

Elzo "Deac" Atwater Sr., patriarch of the family that owns the establishment at 895 22nd Ave. S, died Sunday (Oct. 26, 1997) at age 64 at Bayfront Medical Center. Mr. Atwater, a retired supervisor for the St. Petersburg Housing Authority, was believed to have had a stroke, said a son, Tim.

Complaining of feeling faint, he was checked into the hospital Saturday. At 2 p.m. Sunday, Tim Atwater spoke to him and, "he was fine, sitting up and talking. Later, he got worse. It was real sudden."

A native of Hardaway who came here in 1956, Mr. Atwater got an introduction to the restaurant business moonlighting at the historic Harlem Restaurant while working days in a scrap yard.

The Harlem, at Sixth Avenue S and 22nd Street, was operated by one of the founding families of black-owned St. Petersburg restaurants, Wilbert and Annie Wright. When the Wrights retired in the 1960s, they sold the property to Mr. Atwater.

In 1977, Mr. Atwater and his wife, Mattie, branched out and opened Atwater's Cafeteria. For years he spent his evenings at the cafeteria after working full time during the day. Three years ago, he retired from the Housing Authority and the cafeteria, where all of his children had worked. Two of his sons, Michael and Eric, now run the business, Tim Atwater said Monday.

Atwater's, a magnet for politicians looking for votes in the black community and the meeting place for church groups and civic organizations, also is the cornerstone of a family's history. Atwater's is like a legend, said son Steve Atwater in 1990. "It takes care of itself and the family."

Mr. Atwater was the father of nine, two girls and seven boys, and his approach to parenting was direct. He was a strict disciplinarian, said Tim Atwater. He made it his business to know where his children were.

"I know boys," Mr. Atwater said in a 1991 interview. "I see a bunch of them standing around talking, and I got a sound idea what they're talking about, and it ain't good."

Then he delivered his final judgment on the subject of boys:

"When a boy's not working, he's got a lot of evil in him."

Mr. Atwater was a member of New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, where he was a deacon.

Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Mattie; seven sons, Elzo Jr., Steven, Richard, Tim, Michael, Leon and Eric; two daughters, Barbara Smiley and Latasha Atwater, all of St. Petersburg; a brother, DeWitt, Marianna; two sisters, Leola Williams, Chattahoochee, and Doris Bush, Quincy; and 20 grandchildren.

Friends may call from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Creal Funeral Home, Dr. M.L. King Street Chapel, 2025 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. S. A funeral will be at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, 1717 Tangerine Ave. S. Burial will be at Royal Palm Cemetery South.

_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.