Orlando Watson and Tony “T-Luv” Davis want to make one thing clear about the new restaurant they partnered to open in the Delmar Loop. Prime 55 is not a steak house.
“We only have two steaks on the menu,” Watson said, “They are good steaks, but there are only two.”
Watson admitted that assumption is due to the restaurant’s name. But Prime is the best way to describe their intention for the dining experience they provide to patrons.
“When you say prime, people know that means ‘topnotch,” Davis said.
As far as the 55, Watson says the number 5 represents new beginnings, which explains their new venture in a nutshell.
“It’s a natural progression if you think about it,” Watson said. “When you think of entertainment – when people go out to shows and concerts – there’s a food element somewhere in there.
“You are going to stop to get something to eat on your way in or your way out,” Davis added. “And we wanted to have a black-owned, high-end, sexy date-night kind of place.”
The restaurant opened its doors in June and has enjoyed summer hotspot status since day one. They understand that the restaurant business is risky, but their respective backgrounds make them ready for the challenge.
“We come from the music business where the failure rates are about the same and the chances for making it is even less,” Watson said “That mindset looks at this like, ‘we’ve tried riskier things than this.’”
Davis is perhaps best known as Nelly’s former manager, though his Starpower Ent. group has signed artists to major label deals – including Fresco Kane to So So Def. Watson has worked as a producer for some of the biggest names in music, including Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. His RockHouse Ent. also has success as a concert promotion entity.
“Does that mean that we are going to be successful more than the person who doesn’t have our background? No,” Watson said. “I think we have a leg up in that we do have a base to tap into, but it’s a risky business. But so is bringing an artist and paying them $50,000 to come to The Pageant. It’s a coin toss, but we have surrounded ourselves with good people and have had some really good consultants.”
They got into the restaurant business because they wanted to fill what they saw as a void.
“I’ve been to places in other cities where you go to dinner, you socialize for a few hours and then you go home,” Davis said. “Me and Orlando felt like St. Louis didn’t have that type of go to for our community.”
Beyond the night club
Davis and Watson have been friends since middle school. Watson was one of the earliest producers for The St. Lunatics before putting St. Louis on the global rap stage by way of Nelly’s “Country Grammar.”
“We didn’t do a ton of work together in the music industry, but we all did start out together,” Watson said. “We were all from the same neighborhood.”
Since then they carved their own lanes but had been in talks for a few years about working together again on a business venture outside of the music industry.
Originally, they were thinking a nightclub, but another childhood friend who was a chef joined in on the conversation about what it would take to open a restaurant.
“After three or four months, we said ‘let’s give it a shot.”
As the restaurant business goes, their chef friend moved on to another opportunity after delays pushed the opening of Prime 55 back to summer.
But they are thrilled to give 28-year-old Tyler Wayne his first executive chef role. It’s a responsibility that Wayne does not take lightly.
“With it being a black owned business, these gentlemen know how different it is to maneuver in this world as a black man,” Wayne said. “I’m forever grateful to these guys for believing in me and taking a chance on me. These guys were nice enough to give me all of the creative freedom I’ve ever had or ever wanted. I’ve spent a lot of my career making other people’s visions come to fruition on a plate.”
Wayne has a knack for fusion when it comes to what he serves up at Prime 55. The lobster fries give a Cajun twist to a classic American comfort food. Cheese fries are overloaded with creole seasoning and chunks of lobster. Elotes, or street corn, is also given a kick with Louisiana spices. The steak that bears the restaurant’s name is so tender that even cooked to well-done there is barely any use for a knife. They were also mindful of the vegetarians with the menu that includes cauliflower steaks for dinner and veggie tacos for lunch. There’s also fish on the menu for pescatarians.
The restaurant sits on the corner of Delmar and Rosedale – and the fact that their restaurant it is located in their beloved U. City is not lost on them. Prime 55 has both upstairs and downstairs dining areas. The upstairs area has plenty of light from the windows that surround the entry way. The downstairs is more quaint with low lights and a diverse mix of music curated by Watson set to a volume low enough to where guests don’t have to battle with the ambient noise as they fellowship over the food.
“Sharp look, great ambiance, great service and the best dining experience you can get,” Davis said. “That’s what we’re shooting for.”
As they look towards the future for Prime 55, they have one word in mind: more.
“We want a Prime 56, Prime 57 and a Prime 58,” Davis said. “We want one in Lafayette Square and Town and Country.
That’s the goal. Not to oversaturate, but we want to grow this concept in other areas within the region.”
And quite possibly, other cities.
Prime 55 is located at 6100 Delmar (at Rosedale). For more information, visit www.prime55stl.com or call (314) 553-9595.