Op-Ed: How The Revival of Miami’s Black City Overtown Is Rooted In This Historic Red Rooster Restaurant

April 29, 2022

In the summer of  2018, I wrote and directed a five-minute episode of a web series created for a close friend titled Ashley’s World. A few months later, that episode, “The Call Back,” was accepted into the Urban Film Festival in the 305. Sidebar, I’ve grown tired of the word “urban” to describe anything Black. But I digress. 

Our work was shown on the big screen in The Historic Lyric Theatre in Overtown. I was unfamiliar with the history of the small Miami neighborhood before the opening credits. I was unfamiliar that it was once called “Colored Town” in the Jim Crow era. I was unfamiliar with the legends that performed at the same legendary theatre where my small webisode was premiering. Ella Fitzgerald. Satchmo. Lady Day. The Duke.  The Academy Award-nominated One Night In Miami was based on the meeting between Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali at The Hampton House Motel on NW 27th Avenue. The richness of Overtown’s history is palatable. But, just like other bustling Black communities in this country, it was decimated for no good reason. In this case, the building of the I-95 proved to be its death knell, being constructed right through the town. Overtown has been in despair since.

Yet, South Floridians are looking for greener pastures inward because of the threat of rising sea levels (you know, global warming and shit). That also brings about the dreaded “G-Word.” The gentrification of Overtown has been a thing for a minute, with new developments in construction. And while the threat of being displaced due to high-rises and higher rent is prevalent to locals, Black-owned businesses are entering the area—one, in particular, Red Rooster.

Now, living in New York City, Red Rooster was, and still is, the talk of the five boroughs—especially with regards to NYC nightlife. You were either getting fine cuisine upstairs or toasted to life in the basement at Ginny’s Supper Club for a speakeasy vibe. Credit co-founder, acclaimed chef Marcus Samuelsson. With Red Rooster’s growing popularity, Samuelsson took his award-winning culinary talents domestically (Streetbird, Marcus B&P) and abroad (Marcus at Baha Mar, Norda, Kitchen & Table). And now, he’s doing the same with Red Rooster Overtown.

Located in what used to be Clyde Killens pool hall, where Black legends like Nat King Cole, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, and others would kick it, “The Harlem of the South” provides patrons the same great food and energy that has made its Uptown brethren infamous. Fire Roasted Wagyu Oxtail. Smoked Rooster Royale. Fried Yard Bird. Just typing those tasty Caribbean and Southern dishes makes me want to add points to my Delta membership. And it’s more than the atmosphere RRO is giving its customers. The rich history of Black culture, especially in Overtown, is evident when you walk through the restaurant’s doors. Artwork from Kara Walker and Rashid Johnson adorn the walls. Pictures and memorabilia from the neighborhood’s history pepper the eatery. Even a vintage pool table, giving a nod to the location’s previous existence, get a chef’s kiss.

So, can one restaurant rise a once-thriving city from the ashes? Helping those in need during the pandemic in 2020, providing locals with meals was a great indicator that it can move the needle forward.

“For me, it speaks to the transformative nature of what we are,” Red Rooster Overtown’s Chef De Cuisine Tristen Epps told the Miami New Times. “What might be available today might not be available tomorrow. We have the ability to restart and also to push ourselves to be the best representation of our culture. The neighborhood should be a model for Black excellence. We’re partners in that.”

In other words, yes. Yes, it can.



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