Running a restaurant is hard work. Just ask Estella — aka Dr. Estella Edwards Shabazz, city alderwoman for Savannah's 5th District.
She has the sweetest smile as she recalls adding restaurateur to her list of life experiences. "Oh, it was Yusuf's idea, you know, when we were still dating — he just loves to cook!"
She can tell you all about that hot summer day in Pipsview, Alabama, loading up the little van with coolers of freshly caught fish and shrimp, homemade crab cakes and, of course, the soon-to-be famous Shabazz bean pie, piling in the oil and electric deep-fryers, and driving out to their first festival together, there in the woods just outside of town, to sell those first golden goodies.
Of course their friends and family already knew: Yusuf had a way in the kitchen, always did. The man knew his way around a frying pan and how to bring a fine piece of fish to just the right stage of perfect crispiness surrounding a tender, flaky inside...oh, my, yes!
Why not make a little extra cash and spread some of that delicious goodness around? And so it was.
They had no idea how fast they would sell out — the tantalizing scent of those first filets wound itself through the trees, and people began get in line and offer up the cash for a chance to taste it.
"That was the real start of all this, way back in the 80s in Alabama," says Estella.
When you see you have a good thing going, when you find something people like, why not take off with it? And so they did. Eventually.
After both of them graduated with honors as civil engineers, after marriage and that first little bundle of joy arrived, husband and wife considered doing something more with this idea that had always been a sort of happy hobby: Simple, delicious, locally-sourced seafood, done right.
Yusuf had worked hard as an engineer on the building committee of Savannah's famous cable-stayed bridge that stretched its silvery length across the river to South Carolina. While studying the replacement of the old bridge's cantilever trusses with a newer, lighter more modern design, he still managed to prepare his special fish or crab sandwiches (and that luscious bean pie!) as lunch for the engineering staff, sometimes over a hundred a day, and they appreciated his efforts on all fronts.
Estella took note.
She was also a busy lady: Studying for her degrees in engineering and divinity, raising a fine family of children who excelled in school and are active in community service and serving as Bishop of the New First Afrikan Methodist Christian Church.
Estella also became known in Savannah as someone you could talk to when there was a problem that needed solving, whether it was neighborhood that required upgrading, a soul that wished for spiritual guidance or a hungry family that just needed some sustenance to make it through the week. Folks saw her as kind-hearted and non-judgmental.
And when it came to cooking, she and Yusuf could always be counted on to lend their considerable skills and love of good food to any family, church or neighborhood feast.
When a spot opened up near the old Candler Hospital on Abercorn, the time seemed right to expand the family business into yet another area of expertise: Serving tasty seafood offerings that would eventually become a quiet legend in Savannah. Success did not come easily. the original location came up for demolition so they sought another store, an inside eatery at the old Savannah Pharmacy building on Bolton and MLK Blvd.
Running a sit-down restaurant took a lot of time away from family and professional pursuits, and so a more balanced effort was called for. Finally, there on the corner of MLK and historic Victory Drive, just the right place caught their eye: A handy corner lot, plenty of parking in the back, enough room for a small kitchen and some friendly, yellow picnic tables out in front. They've been servin' up the good stuff here for over 21 years now.
It is said, among those who know, that location is what makes a business successful — and Shabazz Seafood certainly has a great one, right there at a prominent half-way mark between north and south Savannah, sitting on world-renowned Victory Drive, leading to and from the beach. And yet, success could also be attributed to plain and honest good cooking, impeccably fresh seafood fixed with care and attention and two owners who are also devoted public servants and continue to be politically active and spiritually motivated.
Yusuf and Estella believe in that wise motto of "Eat to live, not live to eat," and they back up that belief with a commitment to well-prepared and locally-sourced foods.
Shabazz Seafood offers both sandwiches and platters of fresh fish, shrimp and crab cakes (both fried and grilled), real beef burgers and 100 percent kosher sausages (no pork) along with fries, salad, and Yusuf's special blend of tropical fruit juices, named for their daughter, Malika. In fact, each dish is named for one of their four children.
For large parties you can also order their special fish in portions of up to 40 pieces, so call ahead. And don't forget dessert: Their famous bean pie comes from an old West African recipe brought over by their ancestors, made with white beans, cooked soft and tender and blended with sugar, milk, eggs, butter and cinnamon. The texture is as creamy and delightful as a pumpkin or sweet potato pie, and sits in a tender, flaky golden crust — buy it by the piece or order a whole pie.
Prices are low, but remember it's cash only. The food is made to order, and you can rest assured that Yusuf and Estella are serving some of the freshest seafood around — with a smile.