ATLANTA - When Mike Render, better known as rapper Killer Mike, was growing up on Atlanta’s Westside, you could find him nearly every Friday at Bankhead Seafood, tucking into a $5 seafood box with his family.
He remembers his grandmother visiting the restaurant with co-workers for lunch weekly, and he attended Mt. Olive Baptist Church with Bankhead Seafood owner Helen Brown Harden.
“It’s been a part of my life as long as I’ve been on earth,” Render said. “If you’re writing a show or a book about Michael Render and his family, (Bankhead Seafood) would definitely be one of the characters.”
It should come as little surprise that when Brown Harden suddenly announced the restaurant’s closure in January 2018 after 50 years in business, it didn’t take long for Westside residents to call on Render and Clifford “T.I.” Harris, also a rapper who grew up in the area and now goes by “Tip”, to save the restaurant.
What they didn’t know was that the pair, who each own several properties in the neighborhood, were already discussing buying the business, located at 1651 Donald Lee Hollowell Pkwy. NW.
“We’ve been around the world, we’ve had a lot of fun, but essentially we’re two kids from the Westside,” Render said. “We grew up seeing black ownership in our community, and we felt like if the city was going to develop, we should have some ownership stake.”
They officially purchased the business about a year ago, including the name, trademark and recipes, and hope to reopen around this time next year. Render also promises to reveal “surprises” next month that he said the community will be excited about.
Partnering with them is local developer Noel Khalil, who Render said has served as a “teacher and mentor” as they all navigate reopening a restaurant, especially one as important to the community as Bankhead Seafood.
The team has attended neighborhood meetings to keep the community informed about their plans and get their input, especially that of residents who have lived in the area for decades.
Render recently showed up at a Grove Park neighborhood gathering to ask permission from the community to rezone a nearby property from residential to commercial to create more parking spaces for the restaurant when it reopens.
In addition to adding more parking, the partners plan to completely renovate the property, using the bones of the former building but turning it into more of a sit-down restaurant with about 130 seats and a rooftop dining area.
Longtime fans of the restaurant will spot most of their Bankhead Seafood favorites on the menu, including fried fish and hush puppies, in addition to some new grilled and steamed options.
Render said his aunt and grandmother’s biscuit recipes will likely make an appearance and that Harris “makes a mean sweet potato pie” that will almost certainly be showcased. He said his cooking skills are lacking, but that he’ll contribute his lemonade to the beverage offerings.
Render said the hope is for the eatery to “be a fully-functioning” restaurant, complete with a liquor license.
“We want to capture the soul and spirit of Bankhead Seafood and expand it,” he said. “If they serve good fish and liquor in Buckhead and Midtown, we’d like to be able to do the same thing on the Westside.”
In addition to giving the community a place to gather and eat quality food or carryout meals to share with their families at home, he and his partners are looking forward to further cementing their places in the neighborhood that helped raise them.
He said it’s important to them to provide jobs and opportunities and be visible in the area they grew up in.
“We’re the product of this community who has seen local and black business and good business,” he said. “And we’ve also seen the community fall into turmoil and be undervalued. We’re a part of the community, not just a corporation in the community.”