“Wait, where am I?” joked Tameka Whipple, 35, an African American nurse and longtime customer who came in to order butterfly shrimp and her favorite slaw. She had been standing on the corner, perplexed by the sign. “But, I guess, I do get it. It’s kinda thugged-out to be like, ‘Fish in the ’Hood!’ Maybe it makes the area sound ghetto, or less safe, than it is. People aren’t as scared to walk here anymore, I noticed that.”
It’s like the ’70s sitcom “The Jeffersons,” she said, laughing. “But it’s the neighborhood that’s ‘movin’ on up.’ ”
White, who is African American and married to a Salvadoran woman, tossed a fleshy piece of tilapia into a pan, cooking it in olive oil, seasoning it with Old Bay and offering to squeeze a freshly cut lemon over its crunchy skin. (The menu offers three options: crispy, extra crispy or extra, extra crispy.) Amid the crackling sounds and pungent aromas of salmon, snapper and shrimp, catfish, crab cakes and clams flash-frying in vats of hot oil, White talked about the change.
“Maybe some people — older black residents and some white newcomers — would see the term ‘ ’hood’ and think it’s negative. I also wanted to emphasize the word ‘neighbor,’ ” said White, as he looked out onto Georgia Avenue.
Heading outside to talk, White sat under one of the store’s outdoor tables, shaded by shaggy tiki umbrellas, and pointed out the diversity on the street: a pretty African American police officer on a bike, her hair tightly braided; a buff white woman with yoga mat bobbing off her shoulder; and a West Indian couple in business attire, who entered the shop and chose their fish from the display case and had it made to order, “just like we would back home.”
“The avenue is changing, and I’m like the last of the Mohicans around here. There are so many black businesses that are dying off,” White said, delivering plates of cornmeal-crusted bass and scallops, along with collard greens and candied yams dusted with cinnamon, to the lunch crowd outside. “We’re adjusting, because it’s the only way to survive. I try to look and see what’s around me.”