Until recently, convenience-store chicken and frozen pizza represented the extent of culinary offerings in Gilpin Court — just blocks north of Jackson Ward, but a world away from the minor renaissance the neighborhood is experiencing.
That changed this summer. On an otherwise abandoned block next to the city housing project stands Inner City Blues Takeout.
The husband-and-wife owners, Alicia and Lamont Hawkins, are the first entrepreneurs to take a chance on the neighborhood in more than a decade.
"A lot of people have stereotypes of being near a housing project," Alicia Hawkins says, "but I think you need to bring things to the urban community."
The menu is straight soul food and barbecue — pork, chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and string beans. That's by design, Lamont Hawkins says.
"I had a vision," he says. "Over here they've got to go either to Broad or somewhere on Chamberlayne to get something to eat. And they've got to go even further to get soul food — anything with some love in it."
It's the Varina couple's first restaurant. Lamont left a manufacturing job and Alicia left her position as a substance-abuse counselor. They say business has been good.
Likewise, residents say they appreciate the new dining option.
"Now a person doesn't have to walk all the way up town to get some food," Sandra Taylor says. "I'm quite sure once they start doing good they'll expand. Something needs to happen to this project."