Film crews with the Food Network show “Restaurant Impossible” recently visited Deep Deuce and engaged in a restaurant make-over at Urban Roots.
While I have yet to visit Urban Roots, it’s now on my must-visit list, if only because I’m a fan of “Restaurant Impossible” and I want to see firsthand the results of one of Robert Irvine’s 48-hour transformations.
This column, however, is not really about the “Restaurant Impossible” episode filmed in Oklahoma City, which will air this spring. Nor is this column really about Urban Roots, which is located at 322 NE 2 in one of the few surviving original buildings in the heart of Deep Deuce.
I have high hopes, however, that the story of Deep Deuce will be told by Irvine and his crew. It’s a story of the city’s old black business district: one that gave birth to music legends Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing, one that hosted greats like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, and where the biggest church hosted Martin Luther King Jr., but denied him a job as pastor because the congregation deemed him too young to control the pulpit.
Deep Deuce is where Ralph Ellison, perhaps the greatest writer to have ever called Oklahoma City his hometown, was inspired by his life experiences to pen the 1952 classic “Invisible Man.” The book won the 1953 National Book Award for Non-Fiction and is listed in several compilations as being among the top 100 American literary classics.
I don’t pretend to know what Urban Roots got wrong or got right when it came to food, service or operation. But I know the restaurant’s owners did far more than anyone else in the neighborhood when it came to promoting the area’s heritage. Urban Roots is more than a restaurant — it is also home to a live performance venue where the schedule is a heavy mix of soul, jazz and blues music mixed in with poetry readings.
Browse the restaurant’s Facebook page and one sees outdoor commemorations of Charlie Christian, whose namesake jazz festival called the neighborhood home for many years until the blighted empty lots where performers set up their stages were eventually gobbled by new development.
Deep Deuce’s first hotel (I say first, because I suspect more are coming), Aloft, opens in March. More restaurants and small shops are likely to open over the next year. Development of Deep Deuce, the full revival of this one-time African-American hub of culture and commerce, is on the verge of being realized.
But Deep Deuce’s story, it’s sense of place, has barely been told. National shows like “Restaurant Impossible” are known to bring a spurt of out-of-town visitors in to check out Irvine’s work.
Let this opportunity be a challenge to downtown civic leaders, Deep Deuce residents, merchants and property owners, and the arts community. The Deep Deuce revival, while impressive, won’t be complete until its story is told.