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

Larema Coffee – Another Preservation Success – “Sending a Thrill Up Our Leg!”

“The current passion for reuse might be explained by sustainability or fashion but, most importantly, it affords a sense of history and texture, taking advantage of buildings already embedded in cities. They are buildings with atmosphere, history, and stories inscribed in their fabric. And sometimes sustainability isn’t just about the energy and materials saved but about the stories, craft and intelligence embodied in its walls.”   Paul Miles –The Financial Times

If only the above quotation fit on bumper stickers, I’d hand them out along Main Street and in the adjacent areas. I love the ‘history and texture’ phrase which speaks to the amazing commercial architecture in the downtown core of Rocky Mount. Wonderful things have been going on to save Main Street. Buildings have been bought, architectural drawings have been designed to provide living space above the store, and the City’s facade grants have been awarded.  The early doubters, reluctant to get on board who said, “It can’t be done,” are turning around. They are enjoying places like The Mill area and sometimes have to wait for a table at places like The Smokehouse. To prove that things can be done, Kevin McLaughlin is having his grand opening of Larema Coffee September 27th at 6:00 PM.  Kevin has not only embraced Rocky Mount’s past, but he is helping to build its future. On his Facebook Page on Aug. 7, 2019, he wrote:

How do we create a space which is truly inclusive of the whole community?
Thankful to have hosted the first of an ongoing conversation about the needs of the Rocky Mount community and how Larema Coffee House can best serve the people of this place. Incredibly honored by the turnout of such thoughtful people with wonderfully diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Many more to come.
ALSO! The physical space is looking beautiful, and feeling warmer & welcoming every day. So look forward to opening soon…stay tuned! ☕️💜

The first time I stood in this space pictured above this is how the ceiling looked. Click Here for a previous blog post about this project. When I see the restoration results of that same area on Kevin’s Facebook post (above) I did my usual thing—I got a little teary, but then I laughed. I thought of Chris Mathew saying Obama gave him a “thrill up my leg.”  At the time, I responded with something profound like, “Oh Brother!”  Now, if he’d been talking about the beautiful restoration of this bank building reimagined and repurposed — that’s a thrill up our leg!  Here is another preservation victory for Main Street. Continuing to believe remains imperative. Let’s add a hug around the neck to all the Kevin McLaughlins working on projects downtown.

Denise Scott said,  “Architects can’t force people to connect, they can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers and make the meeting places useful and attractive.”

Kevin McLaughlin and everyone involved has done just that. The old National Bank Building is ready for people to start connecting. Now, *’My Friend’ it’s up to us to enjoy this special space. I’ll see you there! even though I never learned to drink coffee.  *Translation of Larema

106 S. Washington Street,                Rocky Mount, North Carolina 27801