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Ms. Susie’s Newtown Kitchen reaches its official end

Written by on Friday, November 10, 2023

For a project that looked so promising for a low-income neighborhood, this is a disappointing conclusion.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Nov. 10, 2023

Host: Ms. Susie’s was going to be a model for a low-income neighborhood. The restaurant was not only going to train people in gastronomic trades, but it could have attracted a lunch crowd and diners to an area generally shunned by outsiders. No more. Ramon Lopez reports on how City of Sarasota commissioners officially took that project to its sad end.

Ramon Lopez: It’s been a long and winding road for dreams of opening Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen on Martin Luther King Junior Way in Sarasota. The idea was to turn the restaurant into a training ground for aspiring young cooks from Newtown. Jobs would be created, providing an economic boost for Sarasota’s historic African-American neighborhood. A ground lease with Thelma Upshaw was signed, and a loan agreement with the city was approved to get things rolling.

Ms. Susie’s Chef Gordon.

However, construction was halted in 2019. And Sarasota city commissioners a year later granted a request to extend a $150,000 loan deferral deadline, keeping hopes alive. But after years of delays and rising costs, the estimated $1 million project has been deep-sixed by all parties, including the City of Sarasota and Tableseide Cares, the nonprofit heading the project.

Steve Seidensticker was the project’s main champion before he died of cancer in 2018. His heirs worked to keep the project alive, but fundraising was difficult. The Seidensticker family tried to make things work out, but ultimately concluded that the project was not viable. They then decided to wind down work on it. The death sentence for Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen came at last Monday’s Sarasota City Commission meeting with a five to zero vote to execute a settlement agreement between the city and Tableseide Cares, Inc.

The food truck the city took back. Photos courtesy Ms. Susie’s

Addressed in the settlement is a single asset. A food truck that the city will inherit and use at Bobby Jones Golf Course. A deal was reached with Thelma Upshaw to demolish what existing work is out there. The property will be returned to her in “shovel-ready condition” for any future development she may wish to take on the property.

Mayor Kyle Battie said Monday was a sad day for him. Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown expressed hope that a new project that will benefit Newtown will emerge from the ashes of Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen.

Kyle Battie: Glad that we finally got to some resolution, … where this is concerned. As you know, I’ve taken this under my care for the most part. It’s rather sad because, of course, the community of Newtown was looking for this to happen, for training, jobs, opportunity and access to be provided for people in the community. It was going to be a resource, but things happened and didn’t come to fruition. As disappointed as I may be, I can also say that I’m just glad that we finally reached some type of conclusion to it all.

The unfinished shell of the Ms. Susie’s building on MLK Way. Photo: Google Maps

Marlon Brown: As you know, you said this will bring some closure to obviously a very long and challenging project and hopefully you know, Miss Upshore will possibly take advantage of this and do something with the property that does create some viable entity along the MLK corridor.

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.