Catfish and soul food lovers in the Central District have good reason to celebrate. The legendary Catfish Corner is coming back to the neighborhood, and Simply Soulful is moving from their Madison Valley location to the Jackson Apartments. The return of Black-owned businesses to the 23rd and Jackson corridor is a welcome sight to a district that lost many minority-owned businesses due to development, rising rent costs, and gentrification.
Housed in the Community House Mental Health Agency’s Patricia K Apartments development at 2212 S. Jackson St., Catfish Corner—now dubbed Jackson’s Catfish Corner—will keep the same menu that made the family business a favorite, including items like catfish, hush puppies, and their famous tartar sauce.
Owner Terrell Jackson — grandson of original Catfish Corner founders Woodrow and Rosemary Jackson — can’t wait for the customers to see the new digs. “It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “[the new location] will go with the family name. The Jacksons on Jackson.”
After the original Catfish Corner on MLK and Cherry St. closed in 2014, Jackson took on the family business in 2015. Starting with pop-ups, he eventually secured a brick-and-mortar location on Rainier, then Yesler, and even had a food truck in Portland, before a recent incarnation in Skyway (no longer associated with Jackson). Three years ago executive director of Community House Mental Health Agency Chris Szala made it a point to seek out Catfish Corner for the future building.
“Chris gave me a pen and paper and told me to draw my dream restaurant,” Jackson remembered. “I think it’s going to surprise everyone how much work we put into it. I think people are expecting one thing, and when they see this they’ll be like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is nice!’”
Jackson’s Catfish Corner will keep its trademark branding, the recognizable black and athletic gold catfish logo, and the 4500-square-foot space will include an open kitchen, mounted TVs, and framed jerseys on the wall. The Patricia K. project includes 52 studio apartments for people with mental health issues, including supportive services like counseling and meal programs on site.
Szala said the building will also welcome a Black-owned daycare center this September. “As part of our mission [we] really wanted to support legacy businesses, particularly of color, in our new building,” Szala said. “We believe actions like this are what will build wealth for minority businesses and anchor diversity in our community.”
Builders are still putting the finishing touches on the space, but Jackson plans on a soft opening around July 4. Follow Jackson’s Catfish Corner on Instagram for up-to-date announcements.
On the opposite corner, Simply Soulful is slated to officially open their new location at Jackson Apartments’ retail pavilion at the southeast corner of the west building in late summer.
Over seven years ago, Barbara Collins and her daughter Lillian Rambus started baking sweet potato pies, based on a recipe handed down from Collins’ mother Elizabeth Hammond, selling them at farmers markets.
The overwhelmingly positive community response led them to open Simply Soulful in Madison Valley in 2014, adding other soul food favorites to the menu like biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, sandwiches, and more. The expanded menu and continued success meant Simply Soulful was quickly outgrowing their space.
“We took basically a bakery and turned it into a cafe,” said Rambus. “We have one little fryer in the back we fry our catfish in. We’ll be able to be more efficient and produce more food because we’ll have a brand-new fully commercial kitchen. That’s the best part of the move.”
The new 23rd and Jackson space will be about 1,900 square feet—double the size of the Madison Valley shop— comes with roll-up garage-style doors, and overlooks a 12,000 square foot plaza. Collins and Rambus plan on featuring artwork from local artists, and hosting live music when it’s safe to do so.
Geralyn Vannoy, director of commercial marketing and leasing, said Vulcan Real Estate had started a relationship with Collins and Rambus in 2018, a couple years after Vulcan bought the Promenade 23 shopping center and the building home to the Red Apple grocery. The east and west apartment buildings and open plaza combined total three acres. “There’s 532 residential apartment units and over 45,000 square feet of retail space,” Vannoy explained.
The largest retailer is Amazon Fresh, a somewhat surreal evolution for grocery offerings from the days when Red Apple stood at the corner. Vannoy said there are still retail spaces available in the west building, as well as two 500-square-foot kiosk spaces in a retail pavilion. Vulcan leased three kiosk spaces to Ventures Nonprofit that will in turn sublease to companies that have graduated from their business program. QueenCare is the first company to sublease from Ventures.
Meanwhile, the ripples of strength for Black ownership have also been part of reshaping 23rd and Union where “Seattle Soul” joint Communion opened last December on the street level of the Liberty Bank Building affordable housing development. Earl’s Cuts, displaced by new development across the street in the Midtown development project, also moved into the Liberty Bank Building and Cafe Avole is set to bring its Ethiopian coffee tradition into the development soon. A block south, the Africatown Community Land Trust is building a new development at 23rd and Spring, a 7-story building that includes about 130 affordable housing units in a development that won’t just seek to attract Black residents and businesses — it is owned and developed by Africatown.
For existing minority-owned restaurants at 23rd and Jackson like Med Mix and Seattle Fish Guys, the arrival of Jackson’s Catfish Corner and Simply Soulful are welcome additions to the 23rd and Jackson nexus.
Med Mix has been a family-owned business for 22 years, serving up authentic Mediterranean food made from scratch. Owner Otmane Bezzaz credits the success of his business to the support of the Central District community. The support was crucial in bringing Med Mix back to the area after the tragic arson destroyed his first Central District location on 23rd and Union in 2013. Med Mix reopened at 2204 S. Jackson in 2018.
“It took us four years, but when we reopened you came out to support us. We really thank you. Now the area where we’re at is growing, and we are growing with it,” Bezzaz said.
Seattle Fish Guys at 411 23rd Ave. South are excited about the return of Jackson’s Catfish Corner. It might seem like an unlikely enthusiasm at first, but Desiree Chinn, the “Boss Lady” who co-owns Seattle Fish Guys with her husband Sal Panelo, explained that the two businesses serve different demands.
“We’re glad Catfish Corner is across the street,” she said. “We don’t have a deep fryer. That’s one thing that people ask, ‘Oh do you have fried fish?’ We’re a different market. I wish we could deep fry, but we just don’t have the capabilities in this space.”
Chinn’s family has a legacy in the Central District. Panelo himself is a third generation fishmonger. Since Seattle Fish Guys’ opening in 2016, the market has become a community hang out, “like the neighborhood Cheers bar, everyone knows your name,” Chinn said.
Seattle Fish Guys weathered the pandemic by closing their small seating area, and in addition to take-out seafood and poke, started selling some produce from Pike Place Market vendors as well, becoming “like an Asian bodega.”
Chinn is hopeful that more minority-owned businesses can return to the area, even if, ironically, the owners can’t afford to live there. “The original Central District is almost gone. It’s so gentrified,” she said. “It’s nice to see African American businesses back in the area, but at the same time, it’s hard to live here because it’s expensive. [Verse Seattle] Apartments in the building start at $1800, for something small. It is a little crazy.”
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