Blanche’s Bistro Unleashes A Hornets Nest – Bringing Controversy to the New Main Street Reality

The last time I looked there were 405 comments on Concerned Citizens about the opening of Blanche’s Bistro. On the right are a few lines from the announcement. This has unleashed a hornet’s nest.  After reading some of the comments this scheduled post may seem inconsequential compared to the scope of grievances surrounding this new business owned by A. Knight and R. Blackwell and anything they are involved in. Everybody seems to have a legitimate dog in this fight. I’ve decided to go ahead and publish my concerns because they are applicable to more than the Bistro.

***Say it isn’t so, Joe,” was my first thought when I read on Facebook the announcement of the opening of the Bistro because the wording left me uneasy.  Since the first of the year, I have written and have more to write about my good fortune in meeting outstanding young black and white men that are planting their flags together on Main Street. We have some great new investors, buildings are being sold and leased. I write about and believe in the emerging reality of Main Street.

Welcome to Larema
A Garden of Flowers and Gifts

In my ideal world, Cooper Blackwell is launching another opportunity for the entire community to have one more reason to return to The Five Points Area where Larema and Secret Garden hold forth, created by two fabulous people. It is great to have another destination in that area. The photos on the Bistro website are fantastic. Tasteful and what I call, ‘very grown-up.’ I love it. But, the hornets speak of the racial disharmony sown again and again by the owners. Something that can’t continue. Young Cooper Blackwell decreed that Five Points is an up and coming black business district. I’m all for ‘up and coming’ but it felt deliberate to exclude others who aren’t black that are working in the same vineyard.  The new reality on Main Street is that everyone is included.  What people want is a Third Place where they can come without necessarily knowing anyone, yet feel safe and welcomed.

The Main Street blog embraces everyone that is saving our commercial architecture, the opening of new businesses, those who are investing in Rocky Mount’s future and repurposing our architectural assets. I don’t care if these people are black, white, or poke a dot. What I do care about, however, is any deliberate agenda that continues to try and control the outcome of Main Street along racial lines. People are already living downtown, and more will join them. Part of the new reality of Main Street is people celebrating together the possibilities of life. Regardless of the color of their skin, the new reality is that people will be recognized, valued, and known by their love. As it should be.

Blanches Bistro
116 Tarboro St
Rocky Mount, NC

UPON REFECTION-I would like to add that the Bistro can entertain the clientele it wishes to serve, of course. But in the spirit of The Smokehouse, who welcomes one and all, has become a favorite spot that guarantees great food and atmosphere, it is a happy place. They have been a gift to downtown and set a high bar. That’s what I hope the Bistro intends to do too.

***FYI: Joseph Jefferson Jackson (16 July 1888 – 5 December 1951) was a left fielder in Major League Baseball who played for the Philadelphia Athletics, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago White Sox.  He was one of eight players banished for life from professional baseball for his alleged participation in the Black Sox scandal. The occasion that prompted fans to say, “Say it isn’t so, Joe.”


I invite you to like and follow the new Facebook page Main Street Rocky Mount and keep me company on this blog by hitting the follow button. SFH

25 thoughts on “Blanche’s Bistro Unleashes A Hornets Nest – Bringing Controversy to the New Main Street Reality

  1. It is now March 7th. I just had a meal and great conversation with friends at Blanche’s Bistro. Then I read SFH’s blog representing her thoughts – although I hope not those of all the ‘Concerned Citizens…’ – about an announcement that I never read but that hails the opening as a sign of Five Points becoming an “…up and coming black business district.” Since the downtown revitalization effort has signaled a “new beginning” that will bring Rocky Mount together, I think it is a dis-service to inject (your) personal fears into the equation that will cause people to have a prejudiced outlook before they step foot in Blanche’s. If there has ever been an opportunity for blacks to start businesses in great numbers, so be it! I am certain they will not be the only people who do so, but given our history vis a vis access to capital for business opportunities to start – perhaps 5 Points will be the Mecca, but it will only be exclusive if whites allow their fears to keep them from investing in the main street area. I have also been to Larema and both places were warm and inviting. I have also frequented many of the businesses in Rocky Mount Mills, with the same result. So, I think we ought to stop operating with a preconceived notion of what the wording of an announcement means for prospective business owners or customers of those businesses. Let’s kill the demon of the self-fulfilling prophesy mindset and walk in the light of positivity. I am African American and a 16 year resident of Rocky Mount. There is great possibility for growth and opportunity for everyone here. We have to let it happen and not kill it with vitriolic rhetoric that brings out the venom of hatred that I saw in some of the responses to SFH’s blog.


    1. Henry: I appreciate that you have taken the time to write this well-stated response to the blog post I wrote about Blanche’s Bistro. I support everything you have written as a correction to my assumption that the owners of the new venture (who accuse people of being racist when questioned or criticized) would not welcome whites to the restaurant. Others, including Cooper Blackwell, wrote that this was not the case. I have continued to think about the blog piece and what I know to be the new reality on Main Street. Young people, both black and white, are saving the commercial building, repurposing them, and moving forward. Being positive, believing, supportive is the only way. I like your thought — walking in the light of possibility. Thanks for keeping me company on Main Street.


      1. Thank you Stepheny. I am a native of Brooklyn, NY and have witnessed, firsthand the beauty and the wretchedness of revitalization when the downtown district was “gentrified” by, among many other massive building projects, the construction of the Barclay Center, the home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. It is a glorious place now, but you have to be very wealthy to live there. That was not the case when I lived there as a kid, took music lessons near the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and learned to swim at the Hanson Place YMCA. The many families that were removed in the process, never returned and it left a somewhat bitter taste in the mouths of African Americans who used to call it home. We don’t need that in Rocky Mount. We can have Revitalization Without Gentrification, I think it is a healthier outcome.


  2. This idea of Black’s only is being created by white people. No where does it suggest that, but you feel that way,, and the black community knows your feelings are more relevant than ours,, we are told to stop living in the past regularly, consistently. You’ve convinced yourself the oppression of black people is over, it magically disappeared when Obama became president. You’re oppressed by the black delegation of Rocky Mount so you say, where are the receipts I ask? I get it tho, #whitelivesmatter imagine supporters of your oppressor tells you all lives matter, but I digress. Bottom line is you’re creating a false narrative based on one word, Black. Black people would give the white district a chance because we are conditioned to believe white is right, it’s a normality no signs are really necessary. The only people that don’t feel welcomed, uninvited, are those that see color. The word black triggered them, the idea of a black district intimated them instantly,, how dare this ni$$a be great on our watch.


    1. Anonymous: I appreciate you taking time to write this comment. I hope in the end, I have done Blanches a favor. By writing this piece concerned with who is welcomed, it has prompted comments explaining my mistake. They have pointed out that no where has it been suggested that whites aren’t welcome. If I were the only one who got their wings flapping, then who cares, right? Evidently, I am not the only one who questioned this possibility. You and others have left comments that not only state this a wrong conclusion, but shame on me for suggesting it. I am delighted if wrong! I am willing to stand-in the middle of Main Street hollering “I was wrong!” I defend my suspicions saying that it has nothing to do with black, but a red flag about the ownership of the Bistro. They have a long history of controlling Main Street along racial lines. That fact led to my question, who is welcome? I know we see the litany of injustices differently, of course, but I refuse to believe that these injustices must follow us all the days of our lives–forever–amen. These fabulous young people involved downtown are building a new reality on today’s possibilities. I repeat, I don’t care what color they are, they are building the new emerging scene on Main Street that can belong to everyone.


  3. Is Chinatown only for the Chinese?
    Is Little Italy only for Italians?

    Black? How do you feel when you hear that word; threatened? Excluded? Implicit bias is a real thing. White supremacy, terrorism and lack of justice are what helped create Black districts.

    The sentiment behind falsely written narratives and accusations presented in blogs and comments suggesting an up n coming Black District means anti-white is the same energy that helped produce one of the largest acts of racist slaughtering of Black people in America by a mob of white terrorists (see Black Wall St Tulsa OK)

    Does Black History Month or Historically Black institutes remind you of White’s abhorrent past? It was hate that helped create these institutions.

    Did you try to reach out to Cooper before you published this smear blog about their business? I hope you did in the search for true understanding.

    Come to the up n coming Black Business District and enjoy Blanche Bistros. I’m sure you would be welcome and realize the so call “Concern Citizen” fear was self-made. It may be a bigger reflection of their fear of anything Black?

    I have an exercise you can try to help you heal. In your mind, substitute China or Little Italy for the word Black, try this until you overcome your fear of rejection.

    Someone said FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. I hope to see you at Blanche opening on Saturday so you can see how False your Fears are. Your first drink will be on me.


    1. I appreciate your comment. If my concerns are wrong and everyone IS welcome, I am happy to write in support of this opportunity for more people to revisit Five Points; a location that was once important in the lives of the community. In no way am I opposed to a black business district, but it was a red flag as I have written to Anonymous and why. (FYI: District list as I understand it is….The Douglas Block, Five Points, Station Square, Finance District, Bel Air District, Government District.) I grew up north of Chicago in Evanston, IL. and know well this city of neighborhoods that includes Little Italy etc. A source of pride for Chicago. I did not reach out to Cooper but he has left his comment, which I appreciate. Thank you for your contribution to this blog piece. It is better because of what has been written. PS: If I make it to the opening my drink of choice is Sweet Tea. Hope that works out.


  4. Terrible Article. The reality is that Downtown IS an up and coming black business district. There are over 30 black businesses downtown… Trax Coffee Bar, Blanches, The Secret Garden, Prime, Nabs, Better Blends, The Boys and Girls Club, Aroma, Moe & D’s, Newman & Company, D Chill Spot, literally every business except Larema in 5 points, all of the barbershops and hair salons and the list goes on…

    Pro Black is not Anti-White. Black business districts exist all over the country. Google it. Nashville Tennessee has there downtown listed as A Black Business District, honoring the history and legacy of African American Progress in Rocky Mount. Your article is suggesting that because it’s an area where black business is prominent and thriving, white people wont be welcome; well that’s not true.. and would be completely up to them. The slogan of blanches, which they posted on there opening flyer, is “Blending Culture, Creativity and Cuisine” which sounds pretty inclusive to me. The Blackwells have friends and supporters of all colors, but their neighsayers, who you have aligned yourself with, are typically white people, who do not have the best interest of Edgecombe county residents in mind. It’s sad that you went out of the way to post such a negative blog about an entity that is not even open. Who knew ”Main Street Rocky Mount” would attack a downtown business. Smh


    1. Cooper: I hope everyone scrolls down to read your well stated correction to this post. I appreciate you taking the time to write. I think my favorite thing in your information was a great slogan, “Blending Culture, Creativity and Cuisine.” It does sound inclusive! If proven wrong, you will find that I will write profusely about Blanches as I continue to write about the emerging scene on Main Street. On the heels of the Concerned Citizens comments, I think you will find that I hold fast to a reasoned and positive attitude about revitalization, embracing everyone who is hard at work. If I were the only one that interpreted the announcement as I did, no problem, but others need to know that blending cultures is part of the new venue/Bistro. If it is true that Pro black is not Anti-White, being white does not mean anti-black. Let us agree to this truth. If wrong about being excluded in this new adventure, I will not be the only one to be glad.


  5. Thanks Stepheny. I appreciate your blog and comments. His poor judgement is going to cost him business. If there are “districts” in Rocky Mount it is news to me.

    On Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 8:31 AM Main Street Rocky Mount wrote:

    > Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin posted: ” The last time I looked there were 405 > comments on Concerned Citizens about the opening of Blanche’s Bistro. On > the right are a few lines from the announcement. This has unleashed a > hornets nest. After reading some of the comments this scheduled post” >


  6. Well I guess we are not welcome in their restaurant. We are great patrons of Scret Secret Garden II and Prime Smoke House. Guess this new restaurant will not welcome Whites!!


  7. My suggestion would be that we give Cooper Blackwell the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he is proud that there are a number of black business owners now in downtown Rocky Mount and therefore referring to “black business district”. I’m fairly certain that they will accept any paying customers, whether black or white. The money is all green.


    1. Thank you, Nancy for this thought. You are ‘right on’ about not only Cooper, but everyone being proud of the number of black businesses downtown. It is exactly what is needed in this revitalization era of Rocky Mount. I trust your word on this, which I want to be right.


  8. When Rocky Mount hires a City Manager with a (alleged) questionable professional history, tolerates a City Council that frequently spews divisive racial rhetoric, allows the systematic firing or forcing out of good employees in favor of employees of lesser abilities, accepts rampant cronyism and misappropriation of federal, state, grant and tax dollars the result is a pool of city employees, council members, citizens and groupies who thwart attempts at a rebirth of an historically relevant downtown.

    It is a fact that words like racism, poverty, work force housing, discrimination, etc. generally blanket the truth. That truth in Rocky Mount is that CERTAIN people in ROCKY MOUNT are making a lot of money from the FAKE cultural racism their words like these create—it allows SPECIFIC people who were hired or elected to fraudulently siphon funds away from taxpayers, grants and state/federal funding for their own use. Sounds like Rocky Mount has fallen prey to a form of carpetbagging. Please see 2 Below.

    Definition of carpetbagger. 1: a Northerner in the South after the American Civil War usually seeking private gain under the reconstruction governments. 2: outsider especially: a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics.


  9. Stepheny, thank you for your blog regarding Blanche’s. I was in the Secret Garden today and Jay was telling me about Blanche’s opening. I was happy to know that we will have another choice downtown, but after reading your blog, I do not feel comfortable walking into the restaurant. Sad!


    1. Please, please, I hope I have read into the opening too much. I would love to be dead wrong about my concerns. I appreciate that a business welcomes their target clientele, but the baggage that surrounds the family of purposeful racial division is heavy. The interior looks great, and everyone is loving Larema’s community gathering, come one, come all. Jay and his creative floral world is appreciated by all. Work on the May Gorham building is underway. Imagine how great a scene Five Points and other openings will be. I want to go and see the collection of photographs exhibited at Blanches of places that are important to the black community. I want to write about them. I will be SO disappointed if not welcomed. It just won’t do with the emerging Main Street scene.


  10. Why are any of you surprised that Cooper Blackwell, Ruben Blackwell or Andre Knight would be involved in an issue that would create division in the community based on racial lines? This is their identity and they are irrelevant except for the negativity that they represent in the community. They act with the same hatred that motivated the Ku Klux Klan.They do not want an inclusive society or an experience that provides harmony among the diverse groups in Rocky Mount. They want to destroy everything that our civil rights leaders fought so hard to accomplish. Martin Luther King had a dream. He said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Do you believe that Andre, Ruben and Cooper will ever sit at that table? Hopefully God will soften their heteful spirits.


    1. I appreciate your comment, Jerry, adding to the discussion of this new business, badly needed, in a saved building, perfect location. I hope many read this comment coming at the end of the blog piece because it is well said and makes the point that the new reality on Main Street can become the fulfillment of King’s dream of that table of brotherhood. Thank you!


  11. Are Cooper and Reuben’s comments about a “black business district” intended to make me feel welcome at their new restaurant? Long ago, I worked with Reuben at the Chamber, and I have warm memories of our friendship and working together. I sincerely want to support every positive effort coming to our downtown, especially with a friend, but I don’t know if I have the confidence to walk into Blanche’s Bistro and expect a sincerely warm welcome, the way I do at Prime, and Secret Garden II and Larema. And Shehadeh’s too. These are such special places and it’s always worth it to go there. Downtown is a valuable part of our culture, black and white, and these new places provide a golden opportunity for us to all come together for greater understanding of each other. Why would they say that? It makes me sad to think that’s still the way some people think.


    1. You have made my point! This is exactly how Main Street sees these special places too. A coming together that is happening out at the mill and down the trail to downtown. People are working night and day to achieve this new reality. Clap your hands everyone and believe!


    1. I searched Cooper Blackwell on the internet and everything I read about him tells me he is racist. So sad. I was looking forward to patronizing his new business.


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