Savannah restaurant offers common ground on race

Savannah, Georgia's past is what draws tourists. Its historic district, known as the Antebellum South, can be seen in a beautiful, storybook-style time warp. 

Savannah restaurant offers common ground on race

The Greyhound is just a few blocks away. This destination restaurant has a different story to tell about Savannah’s past: the story of a reckoning and race.

Johno Morisano said, "I was just thinking of what this place used be, a segregated Bus Terminal." He added, "And behind us was the Colored entrance, and the Colored waiting area."
... Not the wreck Morisano bought in 2012. He was a New York City transplant and wanted to make his dream restaurant a reality.

Martha Teichner, Martha's correspondent, said that he was a white man. A Black woman would have been a perfect match for me in my simple thinking process.

"Before the meeting, I thought, Am I gonna be something here?" said Mashama Bailey. "Am I going to be a living, breathing statement of political opinion?" Because I didn’t want to."

Bailey, who was trained in France, worked as a sous-chef in New York City for a well-known woman chef. When Morisano approached Bailey about being his partner in The Grey, a media entrepreneur without any restaurant experience approached her.

"We spoke about pork shanks. Morisano said. "And we both realized our grandmothers cooked pork shanks, which was a common moment for both of us."

Bailey was born in New York but had lived in Savannah six years ago as a child.

Bailey's restaurant is located in an old building, which she would have once had to enter through the back door. The Grey opened its doors in 2014. Although the Grey's rich history is part of its identity and culture, Bailey and Morisano avoided discussing race.

Morisano stated, "That question really came back when we had our tragic incident here, where it really was necessary to confront it because it was unspoken." She said, "It wasn't spoken; I was often alone in the room."

The tragedy was that Scott Waldrup, The Grey's general manger, was killed in front Bailey by three young men who fled a 2016 shooting.

She said, "I didn’t know how much Johno trusted me until I called him that evening." "Scott was an integral part of The Grey."

Morisano stated, "I answered her phone, and she was just apoplectic. It was kind of like, you?, wailing and difficult to make out and all that." Perhaps we began to see each other as partners around that time? It's almost like you discover your friends through tragedy and difficult times.

It is still a conversation that began then.

They had already bonded by the time Morisano asked them to collaborate on a book about The Grey.

Bailey stated that he didn't want talk about race. Bailey stated, "I did not want to discuss my feelings about race and I didn’t want to talk about his feelings about races."

What happened? Morisano stated, "We discussed race; it was difficult."

Bailey and Morisano, along with Carol Morisano, rented a Paris apartment and the book began to take shape. Bailey said that it was a six-week-long therapy session about ownership, pride and pain. Fear, fear, and confusion were all part of the process. It was about healing those wounds and coping with them.

This dialogue would eventually become "Black, White, and The Grey," a book.

The audiobook, "Black, White, And The Grey":

Morisano: "Was that the guy who was talking a lot about progress, diversity and women's empowerment... because there wasn't much at stake?"
Bailey: "Why would we hate you if you have everything you want?"
Morisano: Was this part of my racism, my heritage, that remained hidden in my unconscious?"
Bailey: "It's always a question about intent when Black people and white people do business together. "

Teichner was told by Morisano that the emotion was much more difficult than I expected. Mashama can tell you how many times she cried and how many times I cried.

"It was less than he!" She laughed.

They can now feel safe in the restaurant.

Mashama Bailey was awarded a James Beard Award in 2019, and she is up for another one this year. Her cooking continues to win accolades and shatter preconceived notions of what Southern food is.

The Grey survived COVID. The most visible table is adorned with a painting. It has a Greyhound bus inside. Black people sit in the front and white people in the back. Morisano stated, "We've had more people walk out of our restaurant before they ordered because they were offended."

The image is provocative and quiet, much like the conversation Bailey & Morisano had.

He laughed, saying that he didn't believe Mashama or I were fixing anyone's problems. "I don’t believe we’re fixing Savannah’s problems, the South’s problems, America’s problems. We are not fixing our problems. We are creating dialogue, almost like a safe place for dialogue between each other. That's all we really do.

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