Welcome To Pittsburgh, Where White People Open “90’s Style Hip-Hop Fried Chicken” Spots In The Gentrified Hood » VSB

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Welcome To Pittsburgh, Where White People Open “90’s Style Hip-Hop Fried Chicken” Spots In The Gentrified Hood

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If this weren’t a real thing that was really actually happening, the concept of a 90’s style hip-hop fried chicken restaurant created by White people in the hood would make for a cute and clever Chappelle or Key & Peele skit.

The owners would be the type of overzealous 90’s hip-hop fans who still rock oversized clocks and Kangols and FUBU and say things like “Studying 120 right now. Call me back at the God hour.” You’d walk in and the entire wait staff would be past-their-prime rappers. Lady of Rage and Bahamadia would be the hostesses, Redman, U-God, and Black Rob the servers, Spliff Star, Grand Puba, and Amil the cooks, and Raekwon the Chef would be the actual head chef. The menu would be filled with nods to that era. Perhaps you might be in the mood for the Ol’ Dirty Rice Bowl. Or maybe the Master Peas and Gravy. If really hungry, you could even get the What’s Roast Beef? with your DMXtra Spicy Wing Dings.

The skit wouldn’t actually air on TV. After filming it, they’d realize its one of those instances where the idea behind the skit is better than the actual skit, and would cut it from the episode. But it would find a life on that season’s DVD box set; included with other bits that didn’t make the cut.

Of course, White people seem intent on proving they’re able to create realities far more absurd and ridiculous than any fiction. Which is why East Liberty — which used to be a Black Pittsburgh cultural nexus but is rapidly morphing into Yinzer Williamsburg — will soon be home to “The Coop,” which promises to be an “urban, street style type of place” serving fast casual fried chicken, according to Adam Kucenic (the owner). It will sit next to Muddy Waters, an oyster bar created by the same owner. And on Muddy Waters’ other side will soon be another Kucenic creation: “The Big Kahuna” — a poke bowl restaurant with a distinctly Hawaiian feel.

That said, this is a free-ish country. (For the time being at least.) And there’s nothing inherently wrong with a White person launching a fried chicken spot in a still mostly Black neighborhood. Plus, fried chicken’s stereotypical connection to Black people has never not been the most peculiar stereotype ever because 1) loving fried chicken isn’t a bad thing and 2) everyone loves fried chicken because 3) fried chicken is fucking awesome. If aliens ever discovered and landed on Earth, I’m one hundred percent certain their first Earth meal would be an extra crispy three piece and a biscuit. And then they’d forget about their whole interplanetary domination and colonization plan and just leave Earth and take all of our chickens with them.

But remember way back when? When you first read the title of this piece, and said “Wait. Um…WTF?” And then read some more just to make sure that the sheer absurdity of the title reflected a thing that was actually happening? Those feelings exist because you’re aware of that historical connection between Black people and fried chicken. And you’re also aware of the salmagundi of racially, culturally, and politically charged feelings that exist whenever Black residents and businesses are displaced or priced out of historically Black neighborhoods. And that context allowed you to immediately instinctively recognize that the concept behind that restaurant in that specific location is a terribly insensitive idea.

“Why” you probably thought to yourself “would anyone think that was cool?

That thought was likely followed by another thought:

There was no friend or partner or whatever of the owner who heard about the idea and told him that maybe he should reconsider? That, even if his intentions where good, the optics and the reaction to those optics wouldn’t be worth it? No one???”

Whenever something like this happens, there’s a tendency to dismiss the act as tone deaf. This is perhaps the most optimistic way of assessing these situations, as it implies that the person’s heart was in the right place, but they’re just oblivious to the factors and histories making their decision a gauche one. It’s understandable why that would be the first reaction, as it’s easier to regard people as ignorant and in need of an education instead of intentionally reckless. It just reflects a less dire feeling about humanity.

This concept was addressed on the University of Maryland panel Panama and I were on a couple weeks ago. The infamous #PepsiLivesMatter commercial was brought up. And while the conversation started with us collectively regarding it as tone deaf, someone (I forgot who) asked if this happening was more due to ignorance or arrogance. And the more we talked about it, the more we started leaning arrogance. That the type of people behind Pepsi’s misfire know that what they’re doing is vulturizing the culture, but just don’t give a fuck.

This conversation came to mind yesterday, while reading a Facebook thread discussing this restaurant. In it, in was revealed that the owner’s girlfriend — a woman named Diana Strekalovskaya (who also might have some ownership stake) — reacted to the pushback by telling those upset to “do something good for the community you live in” instead of complaining. She also apparently shared a link to her own Facebook page Monday on the “liberal fantasy of cultural appropriation.” Of course, it can be unwise to attempt to approximate a person’s cultural sensitivities and conscience solely based on two days worth of social media activity. Maybe, between sharing subtly racist statuses, she’s in the lab attempting to cure sickle cell or something. But there’s nothing here to suggest that the owners should be given any benefit of the doubt. Hawking hipster hip-hop fried chicken in the gentrified hood isn’t a clueless misstep but an intentional and shameless cash grab.

Until, of course, they’ve made enough money off of the hood, and decide to go full Miley and bounce. Which is totally, definitely, absolutely going to happen. I just hope they leave the chickens behind.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • fedup
    • We need to gentrify White people’s food back! And at least they left South Asian food alone…this time. LOL

      • Tricia Laird

        Don’t give us any ideas.

      • Michelle

        I’m telling you… African food is next. I’ve heard that there was a chef already messing with jollof rice…

    • Diego Duarte

      Giving you people quinoa was a mistake. I rue the day our first lady decided to push for quinoa exports to the US. It’s become hipster food now (and quintupled its price here). I swear, one of these I’m going to swing by the markets and lace it all with laxatives.

      • Quinoa is trash. They can have it back.

        • miss t-lee

          I’m glad someone said it…lol

        • Diego Duarte

          Quinoa is good, if you know how to cook it. I grew up drinking quinoa soup, it was delicious. Not our fault Americans have absolutely no clue what to do with it.

          • Well, how do you hook it up? *takes notes*

            • Diego Duarte

              I literally have no idea. Need to ask my mom that one. The recipees I’m looking at do not resemble at all what I used to eat. All that I remember is it was dense and had parmesan cheese in it too.

              Fuck this. I’ll ask my sister to ask her (I’m not in speaking terms with my mother).

          • Most folks don’t know how to cook it. I hate the way it looks. I feel like I’m eating a million tiny condoms!

            • lmao!

            • Diego Duarte

              LOOOOOOL!

              Whelp, I already asked my sis. She’ll try to get that recipee for us.

      • fedup

        Wait, is quinoa peruvian?

        • Diego Duarte

          Yup. I think it grows in Bolivia as well, but Bolivia used to be part of Peru at one time, so double yup.

          We started exporting it in larger quantities around 2010-2011 and then it became a fad over there.

          • fedup

            New thing learned today. Is there anything that wyt people cannot whitewash? Dayum.

            • Diego Duarte

              Truth is, I didn’t know either, I just assumed so since I’ve never heard it spoken off before anywhere else. And apparently it doesn’t grow naturally in Bolivia either. It’s off exclusive Peruvian origin (natural distribution in red):

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa

              Same as potatoes.

  • Cortlandt Franklin

    I just feel like I’m deaf reading this article because I literally keep repeating phrases within it aloud incredulously, in sheer disbelief,and at louder decibels.THE LIBERAL FANTASY of CULTURAL APPROPRIATION?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?! But no lie,I would not want Redman touching my food and I literally LMAO at Master Peas and gravy.

    • Can you imagine Redman trying to remember food orders? He would just bring you random stuff that he freestyled on his way to the kitchen.

      • miss t-lee

        He’d be like that ol short order cook on In Living Color…lol

      • Hugh Akston

        Maybe redman and Dave can open a resto in one of those hillbilly suburbs and sell whatever yt people eat…that would make good tv

      • mimbaswe

        greatest comment!

      • True story. My dad used to work with Red and Rockwilder (the producer).

        One time, Rock was having a birthday party for his daughter in the backyard. Red showed up already tipsy and with a green plastic cup filled with red drank in it. While everybody sang happy birthday, he just stood in the corner sipping from the cup, and when it was time to cut the cake, he used the edge of his cup to scoop out his piece – knife, fork and plate be damned.

        It was a wonder to behold.

        • miss t-lee

          This story is so great…lol

        • Lmao… that’s tragic but funny af

          • the man is a character

        • fedup

          See, thas what I’m talkin bout. Hip hop used to have soul, character even.

      • fedup

        Leave Reggie Noble alone. He ain’t neva hurt nobody.

        Why does there have to be collateral damage in this fight against wyt people food?

        • I’m sort of with you but I can see him eating people’s chicken like he’s in the Scenario video.

  • Hadassah

    They should get one of these non showering, octopus looking rappers to visit for promo purposes.

  • DCFem

    “do something good for the community you live in”
    That says everything you need to know about the co-owner. While she’s busy making a buck, she wants to lecture black people about our “community.” I’d blow up their Yelp reviews if I lived there.

    • PhlyyPhree

      You can blow them up anyway based on that comment alone.

    • stmije

      Admittedly, I’m new to Pittsburgh (moved here last August for grad school), but I picked up that the two or three remaining black neighborhoods had pretty good senses of community. I definitely felt more welcome in the black neighborhoods than the mostly Jewish neighborhood where I reside.

    • pls

      I want her to say those exact words to someone’s…anyone’s face.

    • MsCee

      Sure white lady…lets not talk about racial discrimination against minority’s attempting to obtain small business…lets just gather round and enjoy a nice plate of All Lives Batter Chicken

    • L8Comer

      U don’t need to live there for that. People travel and eat places and leave reviews

  • Janelle S

    I was so excited to see that a Southern food place was opening up a block from my office. I dropped by on opening day last week and was taken aback by just how disappointed I was to see the staff was not black. I’m still going to try it–because greatness can come from all quarters–but I need to get my feelings right first.

  • Steve Anderson

    When they opened up Union Pig & Chicken down the block after the closing of the Steel City Rib House I said “Hmmm, now I guess it’s Whites-Only Soul Food”. This restaurant opening is approximately 100x more tone-deaf and stupid. I used to ride for the Oyster Bar because it was pretty good food but now I am just completely checked out. These owners truly do not give a fuck. Very sad.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      I haven’t been to East Lib in a minute. Did they close the little Jamaican spot where you could buy beef patties and champagne sodas?

      • Steve Anderson

        Just realized where you meant on the Broad Street Mall. Yeah it’s still there.

      • There’s a Jamaican spot in Pittsburgh?

      • Tricia Laird

        Not the one you meant, but Fireside in Wilkinsburg is still open, as well.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          The want too much for a beef patty. I’m better off hitting up Sam’s Club.

  • A mild correction Champ. For East Liberty to become a Yinzer Williamsburg, it would have to have been originally a Puerto Rican neighborhood, and the restaurant would have to serve authentic pernil, arroz con gandules, mofongo and pollo al horno all with a mural of Tito Puentes and Roberto Clemente on one wall. Also, I know a Puerto Rican woman who grew up in Williamsburg, went to school, became a successful physical therapist and moved to…Williamsburg. Seriously.

    Also, we need to figure out something to gentrify from White people. We already have fully claimed potato salad. We need something else. I vote for potato blintzes from Jewish people. We could hook them up with sweet potatoes, add something savory to them like some smoked turkey…what do you think? :)

    Otherwise, very well written, Champ! Hilarious!

    • miss t-lee

      “Also, we need to figure out something to gentrify from White people.”

      There’s a literal laundry list.

    • Hugh Akston

      Dude was at an event last night wasn’t sure what to do with the food

      They had some dipping and other stuff…looked like a trap lol

      • What was the food? I gotta learn more now!

    • Spicy Kas

      Taking their women doesn’t count?

      • Nope. And they’ve already gentrified the booty so…

        • You Know I’m Sawcy

          No. They Columbus’d the booty.

          • Yep.
            (Hey Sawcy!)

            • You Know I’m Sawcy

              Hey Sweet P. Sweetz.
              (two new nickname options for you)

              • Just got a vision of lil sweet, lol

                • You Know I’m Sawcy

                  That means you’ll accept either one then?

      • Monica Harris

        lol you ain’t right

    • Diego Duarte

      All their food can be gentrified, because they so blatantly suck at it. It all tastes bland and plastic… I still remember that “lasagna” I ate in Houston (ok, not exactly an American food but still). Absolutely no meat in it, despite the fact that it was a “meat lasagna”.

    • fedup

      “Also, we need to figure out something to gentrify from White people.”

      Anything Irish. For some strange reason, all wyt people become some form of Irish on St. patty’s day. It would fuck them up royally to see their “culture” appropriated in the same way they routinely do everyone else’s.

      Malt liquor lager
      Stout ‘n’ Hennesey
      Irish potato churros
      Corned beef tacos

      Actually, they probably would eat it, then restaurantize your very idea, and claim it was theirs. I mean, that method has been working for them all this time.

      • Jennifer

        Ma’am! If we got a food truck and offered these abominations, we would make so much money.

        • fedup

          That one is free. Go out into the world, be fruitful, and multiply your earnings.

          The rest will cost you.

          • Jennifer

            When I open a brick and mortar location, your portrait will be on the wall next to MLK, Malcolm, Obama, and Beyonce.

      • Corned beef tacos sounds banging. Also, I remember doing a sheperd’s pie with cornbread crust back in the day. Maybe I need to bring that back.

        • BrownBearBear

          I’ve had corned beef tacos before, they are indeed bangin’

      • raul

        Not sure on the first two but the second two sound tastey.

      • BrownBearBear

        I used to work on a Jewish food truck, and we actually used to make corned beef tacos. Chef Kenny was apparently a visionary. No lie, they were bomb.

    • Alessandro De Medici

      Scottish bagpipes?

    • Jennifer

      I refuse to open a mayonaisse shop.

    • BrothasKeeper

      I say we take an earnest run at golf again. Eldrick was a nice gateway, but we need a Serena-type takeover on the links.

      • Nametaken

        Then hockey, then NASCAR (unfortunately all 3, especially motorsports, are often less accessible to us due to the type of venues and equipment needed).

      • NotToday

        Swimming. We need to find our black Michael Phelps.

        • BrothasKeeper

          There was a brotha some years back who won a gold medal. I can’t remember his name.

    • pls

      MM MM, not deep enough into their culture…drug dealers need to start paying those country club membership fees. Every starbucks or dunkin donuts needs to be invaded at peak hours.

      We already made sperry’s and walabees basic. Thugs out here with their toes out in the summer wearing rainbows. If we really wanna freak them out, we need to just start wearing these….

      https://theidleman.com/manual/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/vibram-5-toe-shoes-2.jpg

      or stand behind them in the checkout barefoot. Better yet, bring your pitt bull with you to harris teeter and just patrol the fish market. Make it awkward.

      • Quirlygirly

        I hate them shoes..they weird me out

        • BrownBearBear

          You and me both. I live in SF and I can’t tell you how many dudes I’ve seen downtown in full suits and ties wearing these. I can’t.

      • That first set of ideas…
        You sir,
        Win.

      • cdj

        Put a “Comfort Dog” vest on the pit, and you’re all set.

    • mssporadic

      Hockey…

    • GeeKayGee

      Some would say we’ve “gentrified” certain luxury designers like Tory Burch, LV, and Gucci.

      Maybe we should try Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga and Salvatore Ferragamo next? lololoool

  • Diego Duarte

    That she has the godd*mn ovaries to publish a link about the “liberal fantasy of cultural appropiation” after behaving like a blatant racist, on a currently gentrified neighborhood speaks volumes of this Becky.

    What? Did she “settle” for this position because Trump’s currently not taking applications for “New-Eastern-European-Migrant-Trophy-Wife”? Or perhaps behaving like an blatant, arrogant racist in a Black neighborhood is part of the requirements to apply for the aforementioned position?

    • pls

      She wrote that bolchit…why can’t she/they be great on the upper east side somewhere? Go make your cheap flavorless chicken where it will be appreciated, not where you gonna stare at the locals for daring walk into your shop. UGH!

    • siante

      I messed around & read the “liberal fantasy of cultural appropriation” & got mad all over again—

      She’s obviously trolling black folk & courting Trump supporters.

    • Yahmo Bethere

      BOOM!

  • HouseOfBonnets

    *Takes seat with plastic bag of homemade fried chicken seasoning mix*
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e1eced2d8d765875ab3688d70cf9e3a8316b613ae41add3b005542c98aa89f66.jpg

    • miss t-lee

      You got a brown paper bag too?

    • is it almost see thru, from the grease

    • And the chicken seasoned too, right? I likes my batter and chicken both with the spices!

      • miss t-lee

        That’s the only way to do it. Gotta season both.

        • I saw Tia Mowry on her cooking show make some fried chicken with sparkling water in the batter and no seasoning on the chicken itself, just the flour. I was upset.

          • HouseOfBonnets

            Well if her sister is any indication I question several things…..

          • miss t-lee

            Well…you know…

            Lemme stop.

            • You can take it there, because I did in my head lol

          • Msdebbs

            sparkling water??

          • TheUnsungStoryteller

            The audacity. I am ashamed. I’m glad my eyes did not witness that crime.

      • HouseOfBonnets

        Yes, Unlike an investor from the coop we believe in flavor

  • Hip hop fried chicken.

    That’s a new one. We have a Hip Hop Ice Cream Shop in Queens.

    It closed after 6 months.

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