The Western Addition area, including Fillmore Street, has long been the historical home and heart of San Francisco’s African American community. Blacks flocked to the area just before World War II, as part of the great migration from the South- Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, coming west to California and San Francisco.
Soon Black-owned nightclubs and businesses sprouted up on Fillmore Street. Clubs such as the Texas Play House, Blue Mirror and the Bird Cage, ushered in a golden area of jazz and Black business in San Francisco. But this ended in the 1960s, as the Fillmore became he target of Redevelopment, which destroyed thousands of African American owned homes, businesses and much of San Francisco’s Black community.
Today, the Fillmore is a shell of its former self, but the area is making a comeback. The past few years have seen the opening of new restaurants, such as 1300 on Fillmore, the Sheba Lounge, Bruno’s Pizzeria and Bumzy’s cookies. New entertainment venues such Yoshi’s Jazz supper club, have renewed interest in older venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium, the Boom Boom Room and Rasellas Jazz Club.
A celebration of this rebirth was held recently at a Black owned restaurant, Gussies Chicken and Waffles, hosted by Urban Solutions, a non-profit organization that helps promote small business in the Western Addition.
“The purpose of this celebration is to help bring attention to what is going on in the small business and African American community in Fillmore,” said Janice Lee, the Development and Communications Director with Urban Solutions. “A lot of good things are happening in the area and people need to know.”
One of those places that people need to know about is Gussies Chicken and waffles. Started last year by Michele Wilson, a soul food cooking idiot who has appeared on the Cooking network with Bobby Flav, the restaurant brings a distinctive soul food taste to San Francisco.
“Our goal at Gussies is to provide traditional healthy Soul Food, like how your grandmother used to make,” said Wilson.
Wilson had owned the Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffle restaurant in Oakland with her ex-husband. After closing Roscoe’s, she started a catering company, Creative Event Concept, and was looking for another restaurant location when she learned about the location on Fillmore and Eddy Streets.
“I liked the spot, and I decided this was where I wanted to locate Gussies,” she said.
In the 15 months her restaurant has been open, it has seen a steady flow of business due to various church-related functions and overflow from the new Yoshi’s Jazz club, which is across the street.
“Business has been good, but we are hit by the economy just like everyone else,” said Wilson. “But I have been embraced by the neighborhood and community, and it feels good.”
At the celebration of the Western Addition, Urban Solutions honored Marcus Book store, a Black book store and fixture in the Fillmore community, which is having its 50th anniversary.
“We have honored people who respect the community and are doing good things in the Western Addition,” said Jenny McNaulty, the CEO of Urban Solutions. “Events like this are a good way to raise awareness and foster community.”