DeKALB – Untavious Davenport, 37, is originally from the west side of Chicago and jokes that he’s been “movin’ on up like George Jefferson” from the TV show “The Jeffersons.”
Davenport owns Surf’s Up DeKalb, 850 Pappas Drive in DeKalb. He also owns a percentage of another Surf’s Up restaurant location, owns Sound House Music Inc., an artist management and development company, and invests in other businesses.
Davenport’s a business owner with many hats – including the baseball cap he usually wears while on the job.
“I cook food, work the cash register, clean windows, I do everything,” Davenport said. “It’s important for people to see the owner in the restaurant and meet me personally. I want to get to know the people so they know me. I want to be active in the community, so the community knows me. Owning a restaurant is more than having a business, it’s knowing people, their names and faces.”
Surf’s Up is a black-owned restaurant franchise, with about 12 restaurants in the Chicagoland area. Surf’s Up DeKalb first opened in March, but closed for two weeks to take precaution against COVID-19. The restaurant reopened April 7.
“So far, people like it,” Davenport said. “It’s not like other restaurants, it’s something different. There’s nobody else with seafood within a 50 mile radius. I want the restaurant to be the place you go to to get away and relax, eat and meet new people. That’s the vibe I want to bring: just a cool place to be.”
Davenport said the restaurant’s best-selling items are crab legs, fried lobster po’ boy sandwich and Henny wings, made with his original Henny sauce. He describes his Henny sauce as a mild barbecue sauce: “It’s not spicy at all, but it has a twist to it.” The Henny sauce can be ordered on the side or on chicken, shrimp or lobster.
Another unique item on Davenport’s menu are collard greens made using his mom’s recipe. His mom owned a soul food restaurant in Broadview and passed away a few years ago to colon cancer.
“The greens recipe is my mom’s, the Henny sauce is mine and other originals are the jerk chicken, loaded fries and jerk chicken nachos,” he said. “We have a wide-range of foods, everything you could want except pizza. We have chicken, fish and seafood. It’s a Louisiana-style restaurant, and we have catfish, fried green tomatoes and biscuits.”
Davenport hopes that his restaurant makes seafood affordable for everyone: the restaurant offers a $5 special with fries and a drink and charges $13.99 for a lobster tail.
“Whether you order the king crab or a $5 special, spend $5 or $1 million, you’re welcome here,” Davenport said. “You don’t need a suit and tie. I wear two chains, a gold watch and a hat. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Whether you’re looking for something higher-end or affordable, we have something for everybody, something to fit all tastes and categories.”
Second helpings and second chances
Davenport describes Surf’s Up DeKalb as “his relaxation and meditation space,” because he has always loved cooking.
He also sees the restaurant as a new direction, since he said he had a troubled background and spent time in prison.
Davenport said he uses the restaurant as “an opportunity give other young, black men a second chance.” The restaurant employs an all-male, black staff of five.
“I want the restaurant to be a rehabilitation station,” he said. “If I can keep you in the kitchen working, it keeps you off the streets and from getting in trouble or prison. I hold you accountable for what you do, not what you did.”
Davenport told the story of one of his employees, who came into the restaurant one day looking for a job.
“He kept coming in and kept asking for a job,” he said. “So I said come back on this day, come back on that day. And he came in and did good work. So I called him in for an interview. He was really determined. He wanted to work. He was persistent for an opportunity, and now he has a job and responsibilities. He has my trust as well.”
Davenport said he hopes his restaurant will be “the light at the end of the tunnel that guides other young, black men.”
“I want to keep them from going down that path,” he said. “I was once down that path. I went to prison and since I didn’t have the opportunities, I repeated the cycle. It is possible to stop the cycle from continuing. Sometimes all you need is a chance and someone to believe in you.”
Davenport now lives by the motto “each one, teach one.”
“The knowledge I have, I have to share it with others,” he said. “I want to break stereotypes. We laugh and joke and listen to rap music. Some people might think that since it’s black-owned, it’s not going to be run properly or professionally. I’ve been through many racist incidents, racial disparities and inequalities. I want to change those stereotypes and preconceived notions. I want to be the change. So if you’re in town, stop by the restaurant, give us a try. Let us change your mind. We have great food – and great customer service that just might be better than the food.”
Surf’s Up DeKalb is located at 850 Pappas Drive in DeKalb. Food can be ordered in person at the restaurant, by calling 815-517-0620 or on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Food can be delivered through Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats.
Source: The Daily Chronicle