NE OKC development attracts hip-hop artist-backed restaurant

Published Friday, March 2, 2018
by Brian Brus

Eastside Redevelopment on NE 23rd Street will be successful not merely because it’s being launched by a novel new restaurant concept backed by a popular hip-hop artist, but also for its ownership structure, Pivot Project partner Jonathon Dodson said.

When Jabee Williams Jr. signed on a contract to open East Side Poke Project a few blocks west of Martin Luther King Avenue, he also bought a share of the property.

“In neighborhoods that are gentrified, property values typically start low until you get artists and retailers to go in and create value,” Dodson said. “That increases value, and then you get a wave of developers like myself who go in to buy the properties for a little more to charge tenants a little more. Then leases on the first tenants come up for renewal and they’re driven out.

“We realized that if we gave our tenants ownership in the real estate, that would give them upside and reason to see it through,” he said. “We want to go side by side with the tenants.”

Williams, who started rapping in the area when he was 7 years old, said he wanted to pay something back after winning attention for his musical talents with a regional Emmy award. His latest collection released through Grand Union Media, Black Future, is titled after a poem written by an Oklahoma City teacher.

Williams sought out West Coast restaurateur and entrepreneur Andy Nguyen for ideas on how best to highlight northeast Oklahoma City’s diverse culture and untapped vitality. Nguyen co-founded restaurants such as Milk Box Boba, Pig Pen Delicacy, Wingman Kitchen and Afters Ice Cream. Nguyen’s cuisine gained meme-level popularity because of a picture of a sushi donut.

Williams and Nguyen decided the East Side Poke Project needed poke bowls as well as sushi burritos and Spam fries. Poke, pronounced pokay, is a fish salad.

“To me, Oklahoma City is cool,” Williams said. “There are plenty of opportunities throughout the city, and people asked why I wanted to choose the east side. But I believe people need access to different restaurants from different cultures, mixing with a wide range of people. That’s important.”

Williams plans to hang out at the restaurant as much as possible. Eran Harrill, president of the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce, said he expects the business and Williams’ presence will attract other entrepreneurs with just as much enthusiasm.

“I think that area is ready to be an anchor for a redevelopment explosion,” Harrill said. “It’s been hard to get developers to do anything and retail and restaurants to come there. This really starts to chip away at that attitude and show the potential for redeveloping northeast Oklahoma City.”

Finding a bank for financing has been difficult. After several approaches, Dodson finally found a friend in First Security Bank & Trust Co. to purchase the two buildings at NE 23rd Street and N. Rhode Island Avenue. The Oklahoma City Council also helped last year in approving a tax increment finance district, or TIF, to provide $1.3 million for infrastructure improvements. A total of nearly $10 million is being invested in the redevelopment.

Read the story at

Visit our affiliate sites

Shop Oklahoma City A new concourse is coming to Will Rogers World Airport! "The project includes the concourse, four new gates, an observation deck, and a lobby for family and friends to meet arriving passengers."
Shop Oklahoma City When the local economy is successful, everyone is successful! Considering that OKC's seeing its lowest unemployment rate in more than 17 years (one of the lowest in the country!) we think OKC's doing pretty well right now.
Shop Oklahoma City If you've been around Chisholm Creek recently, you'll know exactly what we mean when we say that they're developing experiential placemaking right here in OKC.
@okcretail Shopping small leaves a big impact on OKC's community--so what better day to celebrate all of OKC's amazing small businesses than #SmallBusinessSaturday! You can learn more about it and why we love it on #VeloCityOKC
@okcretail Love the outdoors? Then you'll love this news: Oklahoma City's getting the state's first @REI soon!
@okcretail More than 1500 jobs that pay well above Oklahoma's minimum wage and same-day delivery are only some of the benefits we'll soon be seeing a lot of now that Amazon's Oklahoma City fulfillment center is nearing completion.
Welcome to OKC | Property Search | Success Stories | Districts - Regional | Districts - Neighborhood | News
maps | about us | contact us | sitemap