One of the District’s oldest Black-owned restaurants is facing a legal challenge that could threaten its existence.

The Florida Avenue Grill, located at the corner of 11th and Florida Avenue, N.W., is fighting the possibility of being foreclosed. The present owner, Imar Hutchins, was not available for comment, but the AFRO was referred to the restaurant’s Facebook account for questions of the restaurant’s situation.

Florida Ave Grill2

The Florida Avenue Grill has been in business since 1944. (AFRO File Photo)

“We are very grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from the D.C. community since the news broke that the Grill was facing foreclosure,” the statement said. “You may have heard that we were forced to sue our lender for deceptive practices aimed at forcing us into foreclosure and that the attorney general of New York is suing the same folks for allegedly defrauding tens of thousands of people. The New York AG said of them: “We will not allow companies to hold small businesses for ransom using lies and forgery.”

The foreclosure sale was scheduled for Jan. 18 but the statement notes that “we were successfully able to fend off the foreclosure sale.” Nevertheless, the statement said that the restaurant’s ownership is facing tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and are paying off their mortgage on an accelerated rate.

To help pay their legal bills and mortgage, advisory neighborhood commissioner Mark Ranslem  of Ward 1, organized “Friends of Florida Avenue Grill” to raise money to help the iconic restaurant. He set up a GoFundMe page for the restaurant on Jan. 15 and so far it has gotten $6,850 out of $30,000.

“I love the Grill and as the oldest continually operating Black-owned restaurant in the country, it is a pillar of the D.C. community,” Ranslem said. “D.C. has lost so much already; we can’t afford to lose the Florida Avenue Grill, too.”

The Grill was founded in 1944 by Lacey and Bertha Wilson to offer well-cooked Southern cuisine that included fried and baked chicken, collard greens, pigs’ feet, pork and beef ribs. The Grill’s food and service throughout the years has attracted luminaries such as Lena Horne, Denzel Washington, Ludacris, U.S. Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, almost every District mayor and D.C. Council members, and civil rights leaders. In the restaurant, there is a historical marker among one of the tables that notes that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., planned the 1963 March on Washington from there.

It is not unusual to go to the Grill and see Howard University students sitting next to judges and politicians.

The Wilson family sold the Grill in 2005 to Hutchins and he has managed to keep the restaurant’s “down-home atmosphere.” Jason J. Clark is a District resident that has visited the Grill a number of times since he started school at Howard University.

“It was right around the corner from me while I was at Howard,” Clark told the AFRO. “It reminds me so much of home cooking, being that I am from New Jersey. It was important to me that I got some home cooking every once in a while.”

Ken Fealing is a writer and activist in the District and said the Grill’s dilemma is what is happening to Black businesses around the city, in that they are disappearing.

“I would really hate to see the Grill go under,” Fealing told the AFRO. “However, this is unfortunately the Black business landscape in the city. You have Ben’s Chili Bowl, Horace & Dickies, Georgena’s and one or two others but there are few Black-owned restaurants in this town compared to restaurants owned by other races.”

Fealing said the Grill’s situation should serve as a wake-up call for District residents and leaders.

“We need some effort to support Black businesses and Black entrepreneurship in the city,” he said.