@VALUEZTV PM EDITION
Barbara Devan is more than ready for customers to walk through the doors again at Tasties 302, her soul food restaurant in downtown Wilmington that operated for just five days before it temporarily shut down.
It's been a rocky three months for the Wilmington restaurateur who was set to unlock the doors at 11 a.m. Tuesday and reboot the eatery at 825 N. Market St.
"2020 has been history. It's just going down in the books," Devan said as she stood in the empty cafe on Monday morning and greeted a parade of passersby who popped their heads inside the restaurant's door.
"You open?" said one man Monday morning, as he grabbed a takeout menu.
"No, but we'll back open tomorrow at 11 a.m.," Devan said. "Thank you."
As the man walked away, Devan said the interest in Tasties "feels good. The support has been amazing. I'm glad to be downtown."
Devan, owner of a Tasties restaurant, takeout operation and a food truck in Philadelphia, said she originally planned on March 25 to introduce Delaware residents to her style of Southern soul food.
The menu includes a wide offering of everything from lemon pepper wings to fried turkey chops to ribs. Sides include collard greens and candied yams and the eatery has desserts such as slices of strawberry and lemon cakes.
Devan, a native of Southwest Philadelphia, has lived in Delaware for the past 13 years, but she has been operating food businesses in Philadelphia since around 2006.
This year, at the urging of her son, Devan decided to bring her Tasties food brand to Wilmington with the help of her sister Kiki Devan.
Tasties, "flavor for your soul," is inspired by the cooking Devan learned at the hip of her grandmother who made huge meals every day and taught her granddaughter how to appreciate good food.
Devan said she also has added her own dishes such a shrimp and salmon pasta smothered in Alfredo sauce that has earned her raves from customers.
In January, the family took over the site of a former vegetarian Indian eatery and began working on the interior.
Walls of the eatery are decorated with wallpaper touting Tasties dishes like "mac&cheese" and descriptions of the business such as "too much flava," and "for the culture."
The dining room is dotted with chairs and tables, both high and low, in striking accents of orange, Devan's signature color.
Promotional cards touting the March 25 date of the opening of the counter-service business still stand on the tables facing Market Street.
But the business didn't open then. The coronavirus pandemic, and Delaware Gov. John Carney's closure of restaurant dining rooms statewide on March 16, pushed back those plans.
Devan then moved the opening to May 15. Her reward was a line of customers out the door and down part of Market Street.
It didn't last long. About two hours later, Wilmington's Department of Licenses & Inspections forced Devan to shut down for a code violation. She said she quickly regrouped, got the needed inspection four days later, and reopened for a handful of days.
All seemed to be going well until the May 30 protest in downtown Wilmington for George Floyd, the black Minnesota man who died begging for air after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck.
Devan said she and employees were in Tasties that day and were excited by the number of people in the city and hopeful about the protest, which, in the morning and early afternoon, was peaceful.
"Everyone was saying, 'We're going to be busy today,'" she said. Sometime after 5 p.m., however, Devan said she noticed the mood on Market Street begin to change and become more tense.
"The protest turned negative," she said. Devan heard a commotion and saw that windows were being smashed at the nearby Walgreens store and a family member told her that some in the crowd were smashing windows and looting a cellphone store.
"They were busting out the T-Mobile," she said. "The police were nowhere in sight."
Devan, worried about damage to her new restaurant, said she ran out on the street and saw a large crowd milling in front of Tasties.
"Thank God, they were screaming, 'Don't touch Tasties. Don't touch Tasties. Don't touch Tasties. They are black-owned,'" she remembered. "We've been closed ever since."
"I definitely understand the protest. We needed that," she said. But Devan said she chose not to reopen Tasties until police no longer blocked off access to Market Street.
"It didn't make sense to be open," she said.
On Monday, however, Devan was back in the restaurant, unpacking and moving boxes of ordered items and preparing food. Police could be seen strolling the blocks of Market Street, but the yellow tape that blocked off the street was gone.
Some Market Street restaurants like Chelsea Tavern were already welcoming customers, and others like La Fia Bistro, which was damaged by looters after the May 30 protest, were getting ready to welcome customers on Wednesday, June 10.
"I feel really good. It's been both a gift and a curse," Devan said about the Tasties shutdowns.
"We definitely went through a struggle to get here. I hope everyone understands we're not a fast food restaurant and has some patience with us," Devan said.
"It feels like we're starting all over again."
Tasties is open daily. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.