Known during the Jim Crow era as the center of black business and nightlife, Overtown seems to be undergoing a renaissance. The recent rise of restaurants along Northwest Third Avenue has helped breathe new life into the community.
“I have been fortunate, made money, made a reputation, let me go back and build my community,” said Musaddiq Muhammad, owner of House of Wings (HOW), of why he chose to set up shop in Overtown.
“It is a positive influence,” he said. “I am in the streets every day. A lot of times when our athletes make it or entertainers make it, they come through [the neighborhood]. But I am here. I am employing people. I am teaching people. I am showing people and I am inspiring people.”
Muhammad, who also has a South Miami-Dade County location, started his Overtown operation in 2007, but did not officially open for business until 2011.
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Lil GreenHouse Grill is also in the neighborhood, just a few blocks to the north of HOW. The grill, which opened Feb. 14, is one of the newer businesses in the area.
“People have come into Overtown that have not been here in years and they are using us as a reason to do that,” said Nicole Gates, who is co-owner of the grill with boyfriend Karim Bryant, who also doubles as the chef for the business, which according to its website serves “edgy neo-soul cuisine.”
“I just cannot be more grateful,” Gates said. “The Overtown that we know had almost become like a desert, a place where people just existed, a place where people drove through. And now, it is a destination. Now people are parking here. … That says a lot about the community.”
A third restaurant on Third Avenue, Jackson Soul Food, is the oldest. It opened in the 1990s and now also has a second location, in Opa-locka.
The family business spans decades, including its original location, Mama’s Café, a one-time Overtown staple that began in 1946, according to the Jackson website.
In February, Jackson Soul Food became the only Overtown-area restaurant to participate in the South Beach Food and Wine Festival.
“It was an honor to be included in the South Beach food and Wine Festival,” Jackson owner Ayesha Ingraham said. “To actually finally be noticed as a local restaurant, within the Overtown neighborhood, was quite an accomplishment. Even today that is what we thrive on, being able to provide opportunities to those [that need it].
“We give out second opportunities to those that may have just recently come out of jail and they need a chance, they need an opportunity to earn an income, Ingraham said. “So, with that being said, with us being one of the staple restaurants within the community we help to bring back some of that jazz type of feel that kind of started within this area. We capture a lot of the history within our restaurant.”