INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- In February 1997, as he lay hunkered down in a ditch in North Hollywood, California, shot full of holes, while a heavily armored madman with an automatic weapon advanced on his position and kept firing, Los Angeles Police Officer Martin Whitfield prayed a lot and thought about being back home in Indianapolis.
“I talk to God all the time but especially for that 44 minutes,” said Whitfield. “My conversation with God was, ‘Get me out of this,’ and I think He knew where my heart was.”
Whitfield’s heart was back on the north side of Indy where he grew up near 42nd Street and Emerson Avenue and sometimes went with his parents to eat at Mary’s Seafood and Pastries, a legendary restaurant in the 5500 block of East 38th Street.
After returning to Indianapolis 20 years ago, Whitfield went on to a career in private security before retiring in 2016 only to be lured back into public service.
“It turns out that all the things I’ve done in the past have prepared me for this very position,” he said, “and it is likened to a public servant where obviously customer service is A-1 and that comes from being able to humble yourself and not put you first. So this is quintessential to public services.”
With $70,000 of his own money, and a $15,000 small business grant to literally put a new face on an old building, Whitfield bought Mary’s, which was closed and deteriorating for three years, gutted the insides, pulled eight layers of shingles off the roof, and re-opened last fall as Sea Kings, serving fast and gourmet seafood to a neighborhood starved for a reliable restaurant and discouraged by the blight that has seized much of the corridor for the past two decades.
“If this starts to dilapidate, then that dilapidation is carried through the neighborhood, it’s a ripple effect,” said Whitfield as he sat at a table in front of his renovated façade. “What we’ve done is move back in, put life back in the neighborhood. I hired out of this community, this community has welcomed me back in with open arms.”
The Sea Kings front counter and kitchen is populated with Whitfield relatives, a cook from back when the place was known as Mary’s and a customer who came in one day for fish and stuck around as the ultimate utility man.
Erica Brantley walked out the front door of Sea Kings with two fried crab legs dinners.
“It's different, it's revamped, it's different-- a different twist to it,” she said, recalling the restaurant’s former incarnation. “It means a lot for the neighborhood and it probably bring the black community together, a positive vibe to the neighborhood.”
“This is food for the soul,” said Whitfield. “It's not a soul food restaurant but I say definitely it is food for the soul.”