I'm Nia Grace, the proprietor of Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen.
Thanks, Nia. You’re a new owner of Darryl's. Can you tell us about the path that brought you there, and how long you've been the owner, and what it's meant for you?
Absolutely. I think my path to ownership at Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen is rooted in community. I spent a lot of time working in my neighborhood at different nonprofit organizations, and I'd always would intersect with these different individuals who would go to Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen. And that was my first introduction to the space. And so, from there, I was able to kind of foster a relationship with some of the management team, as well as the ownership at some point. And my path is one of those Cinderella stories, where you went from management to ownership, and that's the short version of it.
I love how you talked about your community-driven past and how that led you. Can you talk a little bit about your journey to owning Darryl's, and how it was really part of a community-oriented path you were already on?
It started in me really just wanting to help one of my neighborhood businesses. I decided to take my freelance skills in marketing and management and kind of pitch it and really just put myself out there and say, "Hey, I think I can help this business." I was really persistent. I followed up with the owner and really wanted to make my case for being from the neighborhood and understanding the customer base, me being one of them. Then just taking my skill set to help the organization.
And so, from being able to work within the business, I was able to kind of to elevate my status there and really learn it. Eight years ago, I walked into Darryl's. I was just looking for a place to hang out. I was there with my girlfriend, and I walked in, and I said, "I love this place. If I ever owned a place, I want it to be just like this."
It was full of life and culture. It was warm. I felt comfortable. It was in my neighborhood.
So, years later, to be able to walk in and actually pitch business services and see that transaction work out, for being paid to get mentored by someone that I admired for his accomplishments and for being able to have a venue or a destination in our space that welcomes so many different walks of life, for me, I think it was just a matter of my passion and my skillset. I don't think that this was a direct path that anyone is going to be able to write down and kind of try out for themselves.
But for me personally, it was a journey of just saying yes and betting on yourself. That is what I had to do in every instance, even to get to the ownership portion of it. To talk a little bit more about the ownership, I was no longer working at Darryl's, and I decided that either I'm going to go back to corporate nonprofit or I'm going to try this on my own. The bug is in me. I've already adjusted my schedule to have no sleep and late nights. So, why would waste that training? I sought Darryl out, and I said, "I really want your advice. I want to own my own space, and how can I do it?"
I think he was shocked. He just said, "I thought you were kind of burnt out." And I kind of was, but I see what it does - the life of the people that walk in there, the people that we work with, the people that we serve - that gives you a different kind of drive to make you want to have more of those spaces. At that point in time when I was looking, I thought it was just a shame that we had so few spaces.It was kind of like that destined moment of me letting him know and him saying, "You know what?" I think it was almost as matter of fact as that, and 24 hours later, he told me, "If you're really interested in having your own space, I'd sell you Darryl's."
I talk about Cinderella stories, because I just didn't believe it, it's one of those things that was truly a dream come true. But I think it was many different moments throughout my time of getting here that kind of indicated it would probably be my destiny.
You’re talking about dreams and destiny and how you arrived there as a Cinderella story, but you also have expressed the real reasons you arrived there - passion, persistence, pedigree, even as a patron and liking it - so now you're the proprietor. What's the mission?
As a proprietor, my goal is to be what that cornerstone had been for so many generations. Before Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen, in 1957, the business opened up as a really quaint diner called Bob the Chef's. It served classic soul food and it was a space that truly, at that point in time, was a safe place for people of color to dine and have family gatherings and be in the midst of friends. And I think throughout the generations, too. I'm so blessed to have customers who remember Bob from Bob the Chef's, who remember the ownership when it transitioned to Darryl and remember me coming up as a manager when they first saw me there.
And so, when I look towards the future, I want to always honor that past, that history, and make sure they will always feel welcomed in that space, as well as being that space for the new generation. We make it what we want it to be at this point. And I'm just so happy that we have customers who are invested community members who are saying this is how I want my community space to serve the neighborhood.
I want to talk about this idea of space and community, both at Darryl's but in Roxbury generally, the idea of shared space, safe places, communal places, and the flow of people and ideas that exist there. How important is that idea to you? It's both tangible, but also an idea of space and how we create these spaces, and how Darryl's specifically is one of these types of environments.
Space, as you talk about in the physical and maybe in a theoretical way, I think is super important, that as we sit here and exist in a city that totes it’s diversity, it doesn't feel like it's just statistics, but it actually feels like something that you're able to operate in. For a long time, would we not feel welcome in certain spaces.
I'm so proud when I think of the institution that we have at Darryl's, where all walks of life can feel comfortable and actually not feel the divide of race or culture or class, because it is truly, to me, what I think is a neighborhood gem, but it's also something that's more than just a neighborhood gem. It's so important for our culture.
And so, in its onset, yes, it was a space that was definitely welcoming and very overtly welcoming of African Americans here in the city, and from all different neighborhoods. If you were coming to town to visit, that's where you felt welcomed. If you were an artist wanting to perform, that's where you felt that you had a stage. Right now, everyone feels welcome there. And I think that's the melting pot that we were always really trying to get to in a city that, again, is so diverse.
For over 250 years Roxbury has been an essential ingredient in the story of Boston as a pioneering and world-class city. Today, Roxbury is a lab for artistic innovation, a beacon of boundless creativity; the neighborhood is both a canvas for that creativity and an incubator of it.
Roxbury Love is a concept that was weaved throughout. It’s in the murals, but also in all the conversations we've had, how Roxbury produces this love. It's like a beacon for the community here, but we want it to be for more than just the community. When you talk about your space as a place where, whether it's gender, class, or race, there's something there that's community, which transcends all that. And we want that to be true for Roxbury generally, that as an essential part of Boston, Roxbury transcends those things. And that, in a way, is Roxbury Love. Can you talk about Roxbury as a place where those things get transcended and what Roxbury Love means to you?
I'm born and raised in Roxbury. And to me, that Roxbury Love is representative when you come back to the neighborhood. I went away for school. I wanted to educate myself so that I can do something really different in my community, or less of even different, what was actually done for me. When I think about Roxbury Love, I think about Sankofa. The people from Roxbury are always ones who are kind of reaching back.
I shared the story the other day about how I always found it remarkable that my mother would engage in these volunteer opportunities as well as work where she was helping different families or different youth. And I always felt like we needed help. And for some reason, I watched her give more. I never felt like I wasn't loved by her or that she didn't give me her all, but I was able to watch her eke out even more for the community because they were little girls and boys that looked like us.
And so, to me, what resounds in the hearts of a lot of Roxbury residents, is that you might have been a member of the Roxbury Boys and Girls Club. You might have done a play or a dance here at Hibernian Hall. You might have seen the transition of the Dudley to Nubian Square Library. And the people that have gone down those halls, especially the ones who have been there for years and years, to me, that is an example of investment in the community and what Roxbury Love looks like. I could take my talents anywhere, and I did at first, but it was a matter of living here.
I don't just talk about it. I mean, I live in Fort Hill. It's a five-minute ride to the restaurant down the street. My gym is in the neighborhood. I make sure that my kids or my nieces and nephews are working in the neighborhood, or we're buying in the neighborhood. And so, for me, it's very cyclical in terms of how we say, "We love our neighborhood." It's one thing to write the check or to put up a Throwback Thursday photo of when you used to be in the neighborhood, and it's another thing to be here and sit on committees and boards and strategize how we're going to make sure our neighborhood continues to thrive. We focus on survival, but really, how are we going to make sure that our neighborhood thrives?
And so, that's Roxbury Love. I could give you something more sentimental, but on the business side of it, the economic side, that's what's super important for when you say that you love your neighborhood and you love the city.
You mentioned that there is this nostalgia for people who have a memory from the middle decades of the 20th century, and how that nostalgia will impact a Roxbury renaissance. So, past, present, and future, right? But I think the landscape of success can be part of that, so could you first talk about Roxbury as a landscape for success and then how past, present, future intersect?
So, even before my time, I think about Roxbury, and I think about the kids that had to be bused to different neighborhoods to get a better education. I talk about that because my mother, again, who was a hero to me, was one of the first classes to graduate from Wellesley High School as a part of that busing program. I think about that in terms of what resources our city may have had at that point in time, and about resilience, dedication, and determination, regardless of what the resources we had at home.
I don't think that people hear a lot of the great stories about residents from Roxbury, and it's just a shame when we talk about how we sit in the landscape of history. Destinations like ours, Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen, which used to be Bob the Chef's, had folks like MLK and Coretta dining there during that time. When the country needed to calm down. Some of those race riots, they sent in James Brown, and he was in the Grove Hall area of Roxbury. And we also had our Detroit Red, or Malcolm X, living in our neighborhood. And this was where he got that truly critical and foundational education, and how we turned in terms of Civil Rights as a movement.
And so, we had all of that history kind of operating around us, and we had some successes that come out of Roxbury, and sometimes, we never come back. But when I think about who we are and what the neighborhood resembles, it absolutely is of success. I think we are some of the most entrepreneurial coming from this area, with our restaurants and dry cleaners and landscaping. We have people who have been really dedicated to education, and have come back and opened their own medical practices and dental practices as well.
When we think about success, we believe that success is a part of education. And a lot of my Roxbury residents are educators, be it in the classrooms or a part of the administration. And again, I think back to my mom, who started her path as a paralegal, and wrapped herself in community and youth development, where not only was she mentoring these youth around me, but I was also able to get mentored too in these different programs.
And so, when I think about the success, the landscape of success, it's literally every person that is living and breathing and working and commuting through and to our neighborhoods all over Boston. But, obviously I have a soft spot in my heart for Roxbury.
So, let's go back to Darryl's for a second. Can you describe the energy that's there for us?
Darryl's Corner Bar and Kitchen, I look at that corner. When you walk in, it's warm, it's vibrant, it's colorful. It's full of energy. It smells good. It feels good. It's a place that you definitely want to be. We kind of pride ourselves on being that intersection where Roxbury and the South End meet, as well as being the intersection of friends, food and music.
It’s always quaint and very intimate. I think it's a small space with a big personality. We've got great brick walls and great black art that adorns those walls. We've got music that is coming from local musicians, that's their music. It's covers. It's blues, it's soul, it's jazz. To me, when we think about that great energy of Boston, it's in that one little corner, from awesome food and cocktails to the entertainment, the camaraderie, the neighborhood feel. I think it's all of Boston wrapped into one and thrown in the box.
- Nia Grace
You've talked a lot about passion, persistence, resiliency, Roxbury Love. That's all part of the essential fabric, but there's also the future. And so, for you, in five years or in a generation, what is your hope that Roxbury will be? Taking all those key things that are part of this fabric, but also moving in a direction or in a renaissance, what is your hope? What's your dream?
I hope that within five years, Roxbury is truly respected as the historical space that it is here in the city of Boston. So often we travel to different parts, and we talk about their monuments, and we've got a lot of great treasures here in our neighborhood. And so, I hope that Roxbury gets that respect, and people are able to cherish it, and visitors are able to come to it and cherish it just as the residents do.
Additionally, I look to see the same kind of investment in the neighborhood of Roxbury that shows a landscape of more success and all of our businesses flourishing and more of our culture being exhibited.
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