It seemed like William and Bryan Graveley, owners of Betterway Barbeque, knew most of the people in the dining room Monday night, as 22 South Food Hall in the Historic Manhattan Casino opened its doors for a friends and family preview.
The brothers stopped at many of the tables, catching up with friends and asking how guests were enjoying their food — and getting big smiles, thumbs up and enthusiastic head nods in return.
They also were getting an affirmation for being a part of an initiative to bring new businesses to The Deuces, the 22nd Street South corridor that traditionally has been a hub for Black-owned businesses and families, including the Graveley family.
“It’s kind of like coming back to our roots and helping to revitalize what was taken away,” William Graveley told the St. Pete Catalyst.
Betterway Barbeque is among the initial seven food concepts at 22 South. (See a gallery of photos below).
The food hall, scheduled to open to the public April 30, is one of the key elements in the revamped Historic Manhattan Casino at 642 22nd St. S. The city-owned building, leased by the Callaloo Group, also will feature an incubator for fledgling restaurateurs, a culinary training program run by Metropolitan Ministries, and co-work space run by Rising Tide Innovation Center.
“The Manhattan Casino building is an amazing historic place. And we’ve reimagined it as a place to create opportunity, to create connections and to foster entrepreneurship on 22nd Street,” said Leigh Fletcher, a Callaloo Group partner, during a St. Petersburg City Council meeting earlier this month. Fletcher is a co-founder of Rising Tide and managing member of Fletcher Fischer Pollack law firm.
“This is one of my pet projects. I’ve know the Graveley brothers for over 20 years. They’re a local St. Pete family, just a great set of guys,” Mario Farias, another Callaloo Group partner, told the City Council. “They’ve worked for a lot of restaurants and never had the opportunity to have their own. I told them if I ever have the opportunity, I will help you gain that, and we got the opportunity.”
The late Vincent Jackson, also a Callaloo Group partner, was an enthusiastic proponent of the company, Farias said.
The Graveley brothers learned to cook as children, William Graveley said.
“We used to spend summers in Gainesville with an aunt who lived on a small farm,” he said. “Every Fourth of July, the whole family would come up and we’d go to the slaughterhouse and get a goat or a whole pig, and build a fire and cook it.”
He recalled the cook at the farm, a man named Elmo, made the hottest barbeque sauce he’d ever tasted.
Back at home in St. Petersburg, those culinary skills became useful.
“My brother, sister and I were waiting for mom to cook for us when she came home from work and she said, ‘You haven’t eaten? I guess you’re going to bed hungry.’ So out of necessity we learned how to cook,” Graveley said.
Graveley grew up near 22nd Street South, and hung out at the restaurants and other shops that dotted the street. His grandfather’s property was only a few blocks away at 19th Street and 6th Avenue South — an intersection that vanished when Interstate 275 was built. His grandfather owned Betterway Dry Cleaners, and that legacy lives on in the name of Bryan and William Graveley’s business.
“With only a third grade education, he opened a dry cleaners because his boss would not pay him $1 more a week. So he saved until he had $75 and bought a boiler and a pressing machine and went into business. He was able to send all five of his kids to college,” Graveley said. “When he was getting ready to shut it down, I was in high school but I kept it open for a while,. My brother followed me in that. Then, when we were working in the hospitality field, we decided to carry on the Betterway name, taking on my grandfather’s legacy, and here we are 30 years later.”
While Betterway has done catering, 22 South is an opportunity to expand the business, Graveley said.
“The nature of the place — being an incubator for startup businesses and businesses trying to get into brick and mortar. I can get city business now and I can go for the big-dollar parties, rather than just try to be a street vendor,” he said. “We spent years building our name. Now we have the opportunity to take it to the next level.”
It’s also an opportunity to build a track record for eventual bank financing, which can often be difficult for minority owned businesses, he said.
Other concepts at 22 South and their chefs are:
• VJ’s, named in honor of Jackson and featuring new American cuisine, and led by the food hall’s executive chef, John Karasiewicz
• Three Generations, soul food, Chef Melissa Gardner
• Shokkan, sushi, poke bowls and burritos, Chef Lan Mai
• Ray’s Vegan Soul, plant-based food, Chef Ray Milton
• Irie Mon, Jamaican cuisine, Chef Dean Hudson and Melissa Grannum
• St. Pete Bowls, fruit bowls and juice, mother-and-daughter team of Anja Adams and Naomi Richardson
The dining hall will also feature a sangria ball and Deuces Cafe, a coffee shop, but neither is open yet. There is a wine bar just inside the entrance.
The walls are adorned with art from local artists that will rotate every few months. There’s an expansive free parking lot behind the building. The Jordan Dance Hall, an event space for up to 300 people, is adjacent to the food hall.