Long before Michael Render became famous rapper Killer Mike, or an actor, activist or even barbershop owner, he was a student at Frederick Douglass High School. Nearly 30 years after graduating from Douglass, the former Astro is adding one more profession to his resume: restaurateur.
The ’93 Douglass grad returned to his alma mater Thursday to publicly celebrate and kick off events as the co-owner of Bankhead Seafood. The beloved Grove Park restaurant, located at 1651 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway just a few miles from the school, shuttered in 2018 after 50 years in operation. Render purchased it last year with fellow Atlanta rapper and former Douglass student Tip “T.I.” Harris.
After a rousing welcome of chants, drums and brass from some three dozen members of the Frederick Douglass High School marching band in the school auditorium, Jennifer R. Farmer, publicist for Bankhead Seafood, addressed the audience.
“As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s appropriate that we gather on this sacred ground, a school named after the legendary, the inspiring Frederick Douglass. We’re coming together in this particular location because a lot of times when people in our neighborhoods become successful, their success is out of view, in terms of how they did it, from young people. And as black students, as people in this community, we want you to know that what we do is for you. We also want to give you a front-row seat to how this is happening and how we hope it will impact your life.”
Render took to the podium to recount how Bankhead Seafood ended up on his plate.
“I got a call from a friend who asked, ‘Are you interested in buying Bankhead Seafood?’ I immediately said yes,” Render recounted. “I understood what good, decent food meant to a community in which restaurants were leaving, banks had left. And the only thing we seemed to be left with besides this fine high school seemed to be liquor stores and churches. And I say that between getting drunk and getting drunk on Jesus, we gotta eat something.”
The restaurant project is highly personal to Render. While growing up in the Adamsville/Collier Heights neighborhood on Atlanta’s northwest side, he and his family ate at Bankhead Seafood nearly every Friday, Render told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview in January. His grandmother visited the restaurant with co-workers for lunch weekly, and he attended Mt. Olive Baptist Church with former Bankhead Seafood owner Helen Brown Harden.
Harden was among the attendees, along with former and current school instructors and administrators as well as some Atlanta City Council members.
Render and Harris plan to turn the restaurant into something bigger and better for the community. Beginning this summer, Bankhead Seafood will undergo renovations to transform it into an affordably priced, full-service, 130-seat restaurant with rooftop dining as well as increased parking. It is expected to open in early 2021.
The menu will feature popular Bankhead Seafood recipes as well as newbies, including ones Render dubbed “dope po’boys” and “trap biscuits.” He also noted there would be food items to appeal to vegan and other dietary lifestyles.
In the meantime, Render and Harris are rolling out a food truck, which was unveiled at the high school. Wrapped in black with yellow and red lettering, the truck advertises fish, shrimp, hush puppies, fries, slaw and pie — and an $8 special of fish and two hush puppies. It is expected to hit Atlanta streets in late March or early April. (Follow the truck on Twitter @bankheadseafood.)
Render did not take the stage just to talk about resurrecting a restaurant. He spoke as a role model for black entrepreneurship, community service and a successful path toward the future.
Directing his comments to students, he said, “We are opening this restaurant because we want you, when you look for a job, not to have to go 20 miles to the mall. We want you to go 10 minutes down the street.”
He also surprised students with an announcement that he and T.I. are working with the HBCU Foundation to set up a college scholarship program. Although details are limited at this time, the funding would be awarded annually to several members of the school’s future graduating classes, enabling them to attend an HBCU on a full ride.
“Twenty years from now, I need you to be opening the restaurant. I need you to be doctors and lawyers,” Render said. “You guys are the greatest resources the community has. You are the foundation of the Collier Heights community.”
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