In the 1980s and 1990s if you had business guests or family members visiting St. Simons Island or Sea Island in the 1960s you took them to Alfonza’s Olde Plantation Supper Club in Harrington.
If you were an African-American traveling down the Dixie Highway to a gig in Miami and found yourself playing at one of the South End juke joints on St. Simons Island, you joined South End community at Hazel’s Café for the weekend low country boil.
Olde Plantation Supper Club
Alfonza Ramsey worked at Don Gentile’s Bennie’ Red Barn with other Harrington residents. They wore white jackets and recited the menu. In 1979 Alfonza opened his own restaurant on Harrington Lane, just a half mile from Bennie’s and deep in the African-American community where he lived. Ramsey was “a master marketer and restaurateur” according to frequent diner and real estate agent Roland Daniels in his company’s Facebook posting in April 2019. When Daniels’ clients from Atlanta ordered seafood, Alfonza, ever working the dining room, told them they had to try his steaks and returned and strategically set on the table “a platter of mouthwatering T-bones.” ’’You got to have some steak to balance those 3 o’clock swimmers; these are on the house," Ramsey declared. Of course, Daniels recalls, “they really weren’t always on the house; often as not [the steaks] would appear in the total of our bill at the end of the night. It didn’t matter. There was an unspoken agreement that whatever was served, this wizard of a restaurant man knew how to help us close a deal with his service and his delicious food. And we loved the place.” The Supper Club was known for their steaks. Why were they so good?, asked a student interviewing him for Ebb Tide . “Because I cooked them,” replied Ramsey.
Once considered the biggest black-owned restaurant on the Southern coast Ramsey abruptly closed the supper club in 2000 after he was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the head after closing on New Year’s Eve.
When the Jones shipyard in Brunswick closed and she lost her job building Liberty Ships, Hazel Floyd, with her husband Tom Floyd, opened Hazel’s Café in 1947 and store on Demere Road in St. Simons’s Island. A direct descendant of slaves brought to the island on The Wanderer Thomas was from Hazelhurst, arriving on St. Simons Island after serving in the Army during World War II (1941-45). “He was a darned good cook” and Hazel was an island native. “Together, the couple whipped up a recipe for success that would feed the community for three decades.”
The café was at the center of a thriving community on the South End that included a rooming house, juke joints, a theater, small inns, and homes. “It was all African American, of course” stated Amy Roberts in her book Gullah-Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles. “Many of Hazel’s dishes were favorites of islanders, including sandwiches, fried fish and “an amazing deviled crab.” The café was mainly takeout, Roberts recalled. “The menu at Hazel’s always pleased a clientele on the go. A lot of the folks worked in what is known today as the service industry — either at island resorts and hotels, or in private homes.” Sometimes people would eat outside the restaurant especially when there were barbecues or Lowcountry boils on the weekend. The café was open seven days a week. On Sunday, Roberts told local writer Larry Hobbs, “Hazel would start cooking early, then head down the road to Emanuel Baptist Church for the service before returning home to feed the afternoon dinner crowd. “
Hazel’s Café closed in 1978 but the building still stands along with the Floyds’ house next door both preserved by Fred Mars, owner of Pane in the Glass.
Sources that contributed to this article: Brunswick News June 16, 1981 and Ebb Tide June 1981 interview by student writers Dianne Douglass, Fontaine Harper, Amy Horton and Nicki Narcisco (courtesy of Brunswick Library librarian Rebecca); Patrik Jonsson, Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 2002; Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles (Amy Roberts and Patrick Holladay, 2019); Larry Hobbs, The Brunswick News, Sept. 2018.
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