City Island is a corner of the Bronx where scenes can remain unchanged for days — anchored boats lazily bob in its marinas, cars are dropped off for hours at the island’s restaurant lots. Save for the island’s only bus line, the Bx29 ambling down City Island Avenue and overhead planes flying towards LaGuardia Airport, time seems to stop.
Where else could you find eateries named Man Overboard Bar, Original Crab Shanty or The Black Whale?
And now, Black history is being made. A new seafood joint, Seafood Kingz 2, held its grand opening on Feb. 26. It’s the first Black-owned seafood restaurant in City Island.
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson attended the ribbon cutting ceremony, along with Deputy Borough President Janet Peguero, founder and owner Darryl Lelie, his son and general manager Derell Lelie, his wife Catrina Lelie and the restaurant’s other general managers Thomas Booker and Charles Dewindt.
“This is what Black excellence is all about,” Gibson said. “It’s very significant that we’re doing this during the celebration of Black History Month because so many Black Americans have paved the way for all of us to be here.
“There’ll be some hard things happening along the way, being a small business owner and working with multiple city agencies. But I want you to remember this day. I want you to remember this opening. I want you to remember the vision that you created. Don’t let anyone take that from you.”
The first Seafood Kingz restaurant opened in September 2019 on Linden Boulevard in St. Albans, Queens, a business which held steady at the onset of the pandemic, even as businesses around them shuttered and New York City became the nation’s pandemic hotspot.
“My neighborhood looked like a ghost town,” Darryl said. “The only people open was us, KFC and White Castle.”
The Lelies had a Seafood Kingz also open in the South Bronx, but ran into complications while expanding its business, and closed shop. Then, an opportunity on City Island arose.
“It was only two of us at the table — Seafood Kingz versus Grindstone real estate,” Darryl said. “But the day of the signing, the investor pulled out. They got a little spooked about the competition.”
So Grindstone took over the space and ran its business until 2020 when the lease was up. Darryl said it was partly by chance that he discovered the space was left vacant. Darryl had come so close to opening another Seafood Kingz location on City Island that he wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass.
“The funny thing is, we came driving up here,” Darryl said. “Me, my wife and my son. We seen the ‘For rental’ and we was like, ‘Man, that’s that’s the spot we tried to get five years ago!’”
Darryl, 58, has racked up over a couple decades as a restaurateur. His other son, Dalvin, is bringing a couple decades of culinary experience as the restaurant’s head chef. He built the new restaurant’s menu in just three hours.
“I’ve been in the kitchen since I was 5,” said Dalvin, 21. “My father set the blueprint for us.”
Darryl said Dalvin began making a name for himself in the family’s business when he turned 13, “whether it be cutting shrimp, or prepping fish or cutting chicken, you know, he was in there.”
Derell, a Soundview native, remembers ordering virgin piña coladas on City Island when he was eight. He’s impartial to his mother Catrina’s “famous banana pudding” that the restaurant is offering in its dessert menu (along with carrot cake and red velvet cake), but for starters?
“I’ve always encouraged people who haven’t tried our restaurants to always get the triple threat,” said Derell, 33. “It’s fried fish, shrimp and chicken.”
Seafood Kingz 2 is the first restaurant visitors will see on their left when arriving on the 1.5-mile long corner of the Bronx. The restaurant held its grand opening for close friends and family on a brisk Saturday afternoon when many businesses, including the city’s public library branch, were closed.
Dr. Edward H. Lowe, a longtime City Island resident, recalled the days when City Island was “an enclave of conservatism, but the complexion of the island has changed.”He remembers when his sister was the only child of color on the island or when a Black family’s house was burnt to the ground in the late 1960s.
Lowe is the son of federal judge Mary Johnson Lowe, who along with her husband, were the first Black people to purchase property on City Island, reported The New York Times in 1982. Lowe still lives on City Island practicing medicine out of his home.
His advice to the Seafood Kingz family? “Just be yourself. Your best advertisement is word of mouth.”
Shariea “MC Heavyn” Perry, who has lived on City Island for the past 12 years as one of the very few Black families, stopped by on the grand opening day to pass on her blessings.
“Six years ago, there were not a lot of African Americans there,” Perry said. “But through the years, it’s been more welcoming and more accepting to us.”
Fran Browning, who has lived on City Island for 22 years and whose husband grew up on the island (known as a “mussel sucker”) hasn’t been able to eat out in City Island because she and her daughter are unvaccinated, for medical reasons. She’s looking toward the end of vaccine mandates so she can revisit her favorite City Island haunts and drop by the newest restaurant.
“In the summer, all I really crave is seafood,” Browning said. “I can live on seafood. If they’re offering food with a southern twist, that’s really cool.”
The menu offers a wide breadth of seafood entree and combo options like Cajun fried tenders, king crab legs, red snapper, fried lobster tails, mac and cheese, coconut butterfly shrimp and candy yams.
Seafood Kingz 2 recently hosted a dinner for the Freemasons (there’s a Freemason lodge on City Island Avenue), and businesses are preparing for warmer days ahead, when come summer, the streets will be frequented by mostly Black and Latinx visitors.
“We give them an avenue to have some of their own food, with the things that they love,” Darryl said. “So you get your seafood with the soul food trimmings. You can’t copy it up here, you know, you can’t imitate it. This is the real soulful stuff.”
Seafood Kingz 2 is located on 634 City Island Ave. It’s open Sunday to Thursday from noon to 10 p.m. and Friday to Saturday from noon to midnight. Parking is available on the street and back parking lot.
Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.