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Callaloo’s good first year in South St. Pete; still work to be done

Its success in the community serves as a key economic indicator for the community.

In its first year since opening, South St. Petersburg’s Callaloo restaurant is meeting some of the city’s expectations.

The Floridian-Carribean fusion restaurant launched early last year after signing a lease with the city for the historic Manhattan Casino space in November 2017.

The Manhattan Casino is a staple of African-American culture in its Midtown neighborhood location. Built in 1925, for forty years during segregation the venue hosted some of the biggest names in music including Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino.

The Manhattan Casino’s success in the community serves as a key economic indicator for the area, which has struggled for decades under the grip of poverty. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s goal for Callaloo was to create a space that celebrates the area’s rich culture while offering economic and educational opportunities for residents in the community.

In an update scheduled before City Council April 4, the Callaloo leadership group reports it has mostly met entertainment requirements in its second-floor event space and consistently paid its more than $3,500 monthly rent, something the previous tenant, Sylvia’s of Harlem, failed to do.

The city requires Callaloo to pay a percentage rate based on gross sales once the restaurant exceeds $1.9 million, which it has not yet happened. 

As of the end of February, Callaloo has $673,000 in gross sales.

The city also included a host of requirements in its lease, to ensure the restaurant was adequately serving the community.

Among them, the restaurant must employ 25 full-time equivalent employees with at least a quarter of those residing within the Midtown community. As of the most recent report, the restaurant only employed 16 people, but seven of those were living within the community. 

So while Callaloo is not technically meeting overall employment requirements, it is employing the city-required number of community residents.

In a tenant response, the restaurant said it was continuing to work with the city to reach its overall employment goals.

The city set a goal for the restaurant to identify four employees for a potential ownership stake in expansion franchises. Part of Callaloo’s restaurant space is for off-site cooking for Pipo’s Cuban Cafe, which owners plan to expand.

The Callaloo Group indicated they identified two employees for future ownership opportunities, but those employees were terminated for “improper behavior,” and they are actively searching for new candidates.

The restaurant was also required to launch an apprenticeship program, which owners say they are still working on.

“We have worked through job fairs and referrals with several agencies including PTEC. We have successfully hired several people and will be evaluating them for promotion. We are still working on the apprenticeship program for future growth and expansion,” the group offered in response to the city’s update request.

Callaloo has also managed to acquire and display seven pieces of local, culturally significant art, another requirement in the city’s list. Those pieces include a portrait of Elder Jordan, the building’s chief architect, an oversized replica of the Manhattan Casino logo, a hand-painted sign reading Jordan Dance Hall Est. 1925, which is the original name of the building, as well as four framed posters of artists who have performed in the building.

They are also displaying, as contractually required, art from local school children.

The restaurant previously featured artwork from students at Campbell Park Elementary and is currently displaying works from students in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, based at Gibbs High School.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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