South St. Petersburg’s culturally significant 22nd Street corridor – known as the Deuces – is undergoing a long-awaited renaissance; two entrepreneurs hope their new business venture will help catalyze those efforts.
St. Pete natives Jason Bryant and Jeffrey Copeland – alongside brothers Chris, Sheldon and Andrew Steele, owners of Sid’s Caribbean Grill – formally introduced The Catalyst on the Deuces to the public Friday.
The business partners have transformed the former Chief’s Creole Café, at 903 22nd St. S., into a “speakeasy” lounge, and a restaurant called Sid’s at the Catalyst.
However, providing indoor and outdoor coworking space for community members throughout the day is equally important – if not more so – for Bryant and Copeland. After local leaders offered ceremonial ribbon-cutting remarks, the entrepreneurs expressed their plans for the facility to live up to its moniker.
“We’re not just like, ‘Oh, it’s a bar, come get drunk,'” Bryant said. “We really are trying to get people to come here and network. Do your meetings here, and work remotely here. And that’s what people have been doing already …. This is a meeting space; this is now a hub.”
The Catalyst is less than a half-mile from St. Petersburg College’s Midtown Campus, and Copeland noted that many students have nowhere to go between classes. He said providing them a space with free Wi-Fi, soft background music and food options is also a focus.
Copeland, 52, called the Catalyst a melting pot. He now hopes to see the surrounding area become a prominent destination for residents and visitors of all ages and races.
He also believes the outpouring of support for the grand opening shows the community shares that goal.
“It means so much because it shows the prosperity we’re actually making,” Copeland added. “I mean, for years when I was kid, you didn’t see this many city leaders come out to anything on this side of town.”
Former Mayor Rick Kriseman and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin were among those attending Friday’s opening event. Multiple city administrators joined Councilmembers John Muhammad, Deborah Figgs-Sanders and dozens of community leaders.
Attendees flooded 22nd Street for the ribbon cutting, with St. Petersburg Police Department officers directing traffic. Nearly 200 bicyclists from the Critical Mass club pedaled over to show their support for Bryant, a fellow member.
However, Bryant said, he realizes there is a long road ahead to helping the Deuces achieve some of its former glory.
“That’s why we’re the Catalyst,” he said. “That goes to why we put thought into what the name is and what we stand for, and I think that’s why people are supporting it.”
Despite its popularity, Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy abruptly closed Chief’s April 7 as the daily grind of running a restaurant for 10 years took its toll. Elihu previously said he wanted young entrepreneurs to reimagine the establishment – opened in 1939 – and “take it to another level.”
He wanted to ensure the new operators were also committed to revitalizing the Deuces corridor. Brayboy told attendees Friday that he was happy to pass the baton to the business partners.
“This shows that we have to work together,” Carolyn Brayboy added. “We have to put our minds to something, and we can make it happen ourselves. We should help one give a foot up to the next, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Muhammad called the opening a “great moment” for the revitalization and reinvigoration of his district. He also credited Bryant and Copeland for their commitment to uplifting surrounding businesses and organizations, such as the Urban Drinkery and Woodson African American Museum of Florida.
“As Council Vice Chair (Figgs-Sanders) said, ‘Don’t just show up on ribbon cutting day,” Muhammad reiterated. “We’re going to be here, and we’re going to continue to support them.”