A sleek black food truck parked outside Frederick Douglass High School’s auditorium on Thursday, February 27, stood as proof the Michael “Killer Mike” Render and Clifford “T.I.” Harris-backed return of Bankhead Seafood is becoming reality. Render, a Douglass alum, along with former Bankhead Seafood owner Helen Harden and other city officials, were on hand for a kick-off event at the Southwest Atlanta high school to announce plans for the restaurant.
Fans of the Atlanta rap group Goodie Mob are likely familiar with the legendary Bankhead Seafood. The modest fried fish restaurant on Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway (formerly Bankhead Highway) is given a shoutout in the quartet’s classic song “Soul Food”.
Bankhead Seafood’s new logo, painted on the side of the truck, includes yellow letters encircling a red fish, and is accompanied by phrases like “Homemade With Soul,” “Westside,” and “Home of the $8 Special.”
The food truck goes through an inspection process in the next few days and should begin rolling in April, with the 130-seat, two-story restaurant (re)opening next spring.
Harden closed her beloved restaurant in the neighborhood of Grove Park in January 2018 after 50 years. It simply became too much for Harden to handle on her own. Render and Harris, who also attended Douglass, along with developer Noel Khalil, purchased the restaurant property and the name from Harden in 2018, vowing to turn Bankhead Seafood into something bigger than the original brick and mortar building.
Following a performance by the school’s Marching Astros band and welcome remarks from Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Harden spoke to the crowd saying, “I’m so happy, seeing my dream realized. This is a dream come true. This is a wonderful moment for me.” She thanked longtime customers for supporting her and Bankhead Seafood over the years.
Wearing a black Bankhead Seafood hoodie, Render then stepped up to the podium to reveal the trio’s plans for the restaurant, which he says includes a staff of “beyond-talented” women, like Chaka Dakers, his wife Shana Render, and Krystal Peterson, the wife of Harris’ manager, Doug Peterson.
During the press conference, Render acknowledged the importance of keeping the restaurant at 1651 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. This is particularly important to Harris, who grew up in the area, and wants to reinvest in the community. Harris was unable to attend Thursday’s event, but tells Eater Atlanta his main goal is for Bankhead Seafood to stay put.
“Personally, it was an important part of my upbringing, as I was always welcomed there and never left hungry,” Harris tells Eater. “But I also hope this will be a way to bring jobs to the community as we launch the food truck and break ground [this summer] on the actual restaurant.”
However, Render, Harris, and Khalil also feel it would be a missed opportunity if Bankhead Seafood were to only remain within the community.
“If Bankhead Seafood (which Ms. Harden held onto for 50 years successfully on that same street,) if we only stayed there, we have failed. It is our job to end up in other communities,” Render said Thursday. “Just like Waffle House and Chick-Fil-A were born out of Atlanta, and we’ve seen other restaurants and businesses grow out of here, we can be the next one. We owe it to our community. Our goal is to become a national chain.”
The partners have hired Atlanta restaurateur Delia Champion, of Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand and founder of the Flying Biscuit chain, as a consultant in order to help Bankhead Seafood successfully scale.
Render says alcohol is to be served at Bankhead Seafood, which was not the case when Harden ran the restaurant. He feels alcohol drives tax dollars to the community and allows residents to enjoy a meal with a beer in their own neighborhood.
Many of Harden’s most popular dishes from her days running Bankhead Seafood will be featured on the menu, along with new items like the “Dope Boy Po’ Boy” and “Trap Biscuits”, and a few vegan options. Render says he and his partners are paying particular attention to keeping the price point affordable for residents of the neighborhood.
But, like Harden, and as stated in “Soul Food” by Goodie Mob rapper Big Gipp, Bankhead Seafood will politely decline requests to sell extra hushpuppies. “No. You can buy a whole ‘nother plate,” Render jokes.
Part of giving back to the community includes providing job opportunities and scholarships to area students. Render and Harris have partnered with Daniel Moss, the executive director of the nonprofit scholarship aid organization the HBCU Foundation, to provide college scholarships to “several” Douglass high school students.
“It is imperative that you guys become successful. So, as a restaurant, we will be here to serve your food needs. As a jobs provider, we will be here for your first and second jobs,” Render told the students in attendance. “If you want to run a restaurant, we want you to go learn hospitality so you can come back and run our restaurants. In the meantime, we have scholarships for you.”
Render concluded his remarks Thursday by stressing to the students the importance of entrepreneurship, especially black entrepreneurship, and learning from one another to become mentors to the next generation.
“We’ve got no excuses but to win. We have not one excuse to give.”
1651 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, Atlanta.