(This article was originally published on the Seattle Globalist and has been reprinted with permission)
by Anna Goren
As central Seattle’s long-time establishments shutter their doors to make way for a gentrifying urban core, one restaurateur is carving a new spot in South Seattle.
Along with Kingfish Café and Philly Fevre Steak & Hoagie Shop, Southern-style eatery Catfish Corner broke hearts when it quietly closed its doors last August. The closures ushered in a tough year for enduring Central District businesses that struggled to weather rapid rent hikes in the historically diverse neighborhood.
Now, Terrell Jackson, grandson of the original owners of Catfish Corner, is selling his family’s legendary fried catfish, hush puppies, fries, and tartar sauce out of a tent near the Rainier Beach Link light rail station.
Over the last 30 years, many Seattleites have come to know the corner of MLK and Cherry for its iconic mural of Dr. Martin Luther King and flashing orange sign that could be seen almost nowhere else in the city: “Southern Catfish.”
Terrell Jackson’s family sold the business in 2000. However, according to Capitol Hill Seattle, the second owners of Catfish Corner were forced to close after owing thousands in state taxes and rent. Longtime residents and sweet tea addicts were devastated. But no one more than Jackson who grew up at the restaurant, washing dishes and greeting regulars.
Under the new name “Jackson’s Catfish Corner,” Jackson is attempting to breathe new life into the historic family business. “It was my responsibility to bring it back,” he says.
After quitting his job at as a security manager at a casino last year, Jackson approached the property owners of the space on MLK to see about re-opening, only to find that the rent had doubled. “He wasn’t going for it, because the CD has changed” Jackson said.
Marcus Lalario, the club promoter and restaurateur behind Lil’ Woody’s, has plans to open a chicken and waffles spot in the space, with the spirit of Catfish Corner in mind.
Jackson didn’t let the rent hike stop him, though. He gathered old recipes and began showing up wherever people would let him: Franklin High School, food festivals, in front of a motorcycle club in Skyway—and was selling 150 pounds of catfish in two or three hours. With help from a friend who had a vacant lot in Rainier Beach, he set up a tent that is stationed there six days a week from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. — or until they sell out.
Jubilant, he described the success of his past few weeks in business with “the original crew” (his mom, brother, wife, and others), and hopes of opening a brick and mortar store in south end, near the light rail.
The best part about the south end? “It’s not just for African-Americans,” says Jackson. “I’m seeing Africans, Asians–people who have never had catfish.” (Interestingly enough, catfish is a prominent ingredient in some Asian and Nigerian dishes.)
And if the customers are buying out of his tent, then they will come for a full-scale restaurant, he says.
Jackson has six months at the current location before the property owner has other plans for the space. He hopes that with good, steady business, he can get enough capital to secure a more permanent location nearby. Once he does, he can promise one thing to Seattle — he won’t change anything.
Check out Jackson’s Catfish Corner on Facebook. The tent is at 4348 South Henderson, Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.