Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: "A Blessing" for Trenton

BENNINGTON -- The odds of Thomasena's Takeout surviving more than a few months let alone thriving for 58 weeks were pretty bleak because 1) 35 percent of small businesses fail within the first year 2) 16,000 Trentonians can't find jobs (meaning not much disposable income to go out and eat) and 3) the stucco joint opened in one of the worst hoods.

None of that swayed Venice Johnson. His tough grandma raised him and taught him to buck the odds and persevere, and that's why he named the business after her.

Venice Johnson in front of Thomasena's (Joey Kulkin photo)

He scouted the best cooks in Trenton and offered the gig to a friendly 6-foot-5 fella by the name of Don Riley then began handing out jobs to anyone willing to work.

Don made it, people ate it and boom!

"We probably serve 600 people a week," Riley said.

Thomasena's is Thomasena's because of the $5 fish and grits.

"People never stop eating that!" Riley said laughing.

Fish, rice and collard greens is another favorite

But the "Ooh-Wee" has become a cult favorite ...


Grilled basa over yellow rice with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and homemade cheese sauce poured over it all comprises the Ooh-Wee, which is named after Trenton rapper Big Ooh (Umar Alim). Wings, burgers, salads and breakfast are on the menu, too.

"I know the owner of #Thomasena's & One Day we Were in the Barbership (Razor Sharp) & we Were Going Over Ideas for Names of the Food on the Menu," Big Ooh said this morning during an exchange on Facebook. "There was a Restaurant in Trenton Years Back Called 'Hip-Hop Hoagie Shop' That Would Name Food After Hip-Hop & R&B Artist...So I Told Nas to do a Black History Menu (Not Just with the Obvious Martin Luther King and Malcolm X etc.) but Name Certain Foods After People that A lot of People Weren't Familiar with in Hopes They Would Research & See Who Exactly That Person Was. (So Now Your Not Only Eating Good but Learning as Well).

"When #Thomasena's 1st Opened I Would Always Go in There & Order the Same Thing. I Would Refer People There. Promote on Video Blogs etc. So One Day I Walk in & Nas Says, 'Look Behind You' & There's a Poster in the Restaurant That Says 'Home of the Famous Ooh-Wee. We Named it After You.' It Feels Good 2 Have it Named After me. I See A lot of People in the Streets & They say I just had a Ooh-Wee or I'm Going to Get One ... You know for what I do it's More Promotion but More Importantly it's Being Associated w/a Brother Giving Back to his Community & I'm Always with That."

Yesterday, Art Gallery Dude was searching for a photo and stumbled upon something he wrote 54 weeks ago when Trentonian TV broadcast the "Tyrone Miller Show" live at Thomasena's. The place was a few days from celebrating it's 1-month anniversary.

It was hotter than shit that day, worse inside the fish shack. Tyrone was sweating a river because he's a big ol' burly dude. AGD was sweating a river because he's a big ol' burly dude, too; a big ol' burly junkie, too, so he was sweating out plenty of that stuff.

Reading the story (here) yesterday and looking at the photos and watching the 19-minute show brought back a lot of memories. The gravitational pull is strong some days, and so yeah, some days AGD misses the newsroom chaos. That's to be expected. Good thing is the longing subsides a little more every day.

It's funny, today is the 87-year anniversary of Satchel Paige making his professional pitching debut in the Negro Leagues ...

1944 photo courtesy The National Pastime Museum

One of his famous quotes is "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."

Easier said than done, Satchmo.

Yesterday AGD looked back at Episode 4 of "Tyrone".

Tyrone is a great showman. His energy made every episode fun.

But Episode 4, 58 weeks ago, was important for other reasons because Tyrone introduced AGD to an aspiring Trenton photographer by the name of Corey McCoy.

One thing leads to another ... and McCoy is photographing a track meet for The Trentonian later that day. This picture appears ...

So Focus Photography HERE

Loved Corey's personality, his talent and his go-getter attitude, so we began throwing Corey more freelance assignments, especially high school playoff games ...

Corey snaps Alex Moore breaking NJ's record
for goals by a girls lacrosse player. Front page!

But AGD also sent the kid to breaking news scenes were bullets had been flying minutes earlier, or to controversial news events, like when Trenton Mayor Tony Mack used one of the shuttered library branches to open a "Learning Center" ...

Corey McCoy front-page photo

He produced quality work every time ...

... and one thing leads to another ... and The Trentonian Flashmob blog was born.

One thing continued to lead to another ... and Trenton-born photographer Corey McCoy was shooting babes for The Trentonian's Page 6 contest and later Page 6 ...

The one and only Laporscha Williams. AGD's favorite.

And that's why the gravitational pull remains strong 54 weeks later, because you just don't forget about things over night, or over the course of 378 nights. And you most certainly never forget about someone as smokin' as Laporscha.

Fifty-six weeks ago, Episode 3 of the Tyrone Miller Show broadcast live from Mike's Computer's & Electronics on East State Street ...

A few months ago Mike closed the front door after the ceiling collapsed and decimated his inventory; old building ravaged by after-effects of a storm, and there was nothing Mike could do about it.

Lesser men would have walked away, defeated.

Today, May 1, 2013, is a celebration for Mike because he is re-opening his computer store in another part of town, not too far away, at 14 North Broad.

Mike's Computers and Electronics will be like 66 percent of nascent businesses that survive the first two years or he'll come to find out that repairing and reselling computers and electronics to Trentonians on the cheap isn't a viable business plan.

Looking forward to looking back in 54 weeks.

In 54 weeks, Mike's might be thriving like the popular fish and grits shack at the corner of Spring and Calhoun in West Bubble.

"It's a blessing," Donald Riley, Thomasena's friendly 6-foot-5 head cook, said this morning amid the breakfast crowd clattering in the background. "Because we survived a year and everyone is showing us a lot of love even though we're smack-dab in the hood."