Betsy Kellum Title: Croaker's Spot

Betsy Kellum Title: Croaker's Spot


Betsy Kellum
Croaker's Spot
Oil on Canvas

Mr. Croaker was born in the Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia once called "Little Africa" for its predominant African American demographic. It was the destination for African Americans migrating from the farmlands and plantations of Virginia and North Carolina to live and develop businesses. Mr. Croaker grew up amongst the striving black professionals and business owners of Jackson Ward. He was nicknamed for the croaking sound of his voice and inviting laugh, which contrasted with his smooth style and svelte demeanor. After graduating from Armstrong High School he traveled to New York to find work in what he affectionately referred to as Harlem USA. Mr. Croaker began to befriend starving artists, writers, jazz musicians, small time hustlers, and aspiring entrepreneurs, all of whom were trying to carve a niche for themselves in the big city. As time passed, Mr. Croaker grew most popular with the musicians, entertainers, and artists. He soon became well known among the jazz set and on many occasions was invited to accompany some of the popular trios and sextets as they toured throughout the South. Though not a musician of sorts, his popularity grew because of his ability to transcend North and South, country and city and even black and white. Mr. Croaker's blend of down-home humility and big city flair was a trademark he word well and he soon became known as the ambassador for southern hospitality and big city sophistication.

During his travels with various groups, Mr. Croaker developed the uncanny ability to find the best soul food spots in any town they played. He began to develop a great rapport with the owners of the little known mom and pop restaurants up and down the East Coast and Chicago. Always quick to share a firm handshake and a smile, Mr. Croaker made friends from the 9th Ward in New Orleans to Roxbury in Boston. All knew that when Mr. Croaker came to town the entire jazz set would arrive soon thereafter. He made so many unknown soul food restaurants popular with his following that owners would have a special dish prepared only for his tasting and critique. They would also adjust their hours to accommodate the bands with which he toured. His friends and cohorts so trusted his taste in food and his down-home appeal that they followed his every recommendation and were never disappointed. Mr. Croaker never forgot a name or face and his reputation with the jazz set, club owners and late-night hustlers soon set the stage for the opening of his own joint in the middle of Harlem.

The original spot began as an "after hours" joint created to serve the artist community in and around the time of Harlem's mainstream awakening, or as it was most popularly referred to, the Harlem Renaissance. As Mr. Croaker would tell you, "Harlem was always happnin'!" Originally, it was patronized mostly by entertainers and jazz musicians who were friends and associates of Mr. Croaker. In its original format, this joint operated strictly as a private club but soon became well known to jazz club owners, small time hustlers, artists, poets, and such: all of whom kept late night and early morning hours in Harlem, and were seeking a nice place to chill and eat, or eat and chill.

"Croaker's" as a restaurant started up in Harlem around 135th St. and Lenox Ave. and became well known for serving up large helpings of down home good food and up town good times. All who frequented this establishment began to affectionately refer to it simply as "Croaker's Spot". This brief promo initially angered most club owners but soon it became the call of the night for all giggin' musicians, jazz aficionados, late night groupies and all those hungry for some good food. Stars, like his homie and friend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, always came by after his gigs for the best late night meal Harlem had to offer. He would always ask for the same dish, the same way..."give me the fish...with plenty peppers and onions Croaker Man" a dish that reminded them both of the Eggleston's Hotel in Richmond. Hoppin' dishes from soul food spots up and down the east coast like "Two Sisters" in N'Orleans, "Sistah Jesse's" in Boston, "Anderson's Cafe" in Richmond and "Ma Dears" in Southside Chicago became his mainstay, Mr. Croaker set out to create the best of the best in soul food eatin' this side of the Mississippi, for those who thrived on the other side of midnight, at the center of the universe, Harlem USA. 

No one person went to Croaker's just to satisfy their hunger, any late-night diner could've served that purpose. The "late night set" of Harlem went to Croaker's to satisfy all their sensations and experience each one in the down-home comfort of a Southern soul food kitchen positioned perfectly in an uptown setting. It is said that eating is an intimate activity that should always take place where good feelings prevail. The original Croaker's was the place where good feelings thrived, and it is on this foundation that we have recreated the original restaurant, and we gladly serve them up in large portions in the spirit it was originally intended. As Mr. Croaker would say, "Let me tell you...ain't nuthin' like good food, good people, at a good spot...that's happnin!

Collection: Two To Three Feet

Previous Next View Collection