Bridgette Frazier, a former Beaufort County English teacher who was elected to the Bluffton Town Council in 2020, has now fulfilled one of her many dreams.
The caterer and operator of Chef B’s Eats food truck, Frazier is now the owner of a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Old Town, named Ma Daisy’s Porch in tribute to her grandmother Daisy.
“My dream for my business to be able to cultivate an experience for people where they are not only coming to enjoy the food but experience a bit of my culture,” said Frazier, who is a descendant of the local Gullah community. “For us, food starts the conversation. I want to have a shrimp net or a crab trap hanging up or outside, taking people on a journey through food and artifacts.”
Frazier comes naturally by the drive to bring food and people together. Her late father, Oscar Sr., owned and operated Oscar’s BBQ in what looked like a big red caboose with a pig’s head on it. It was one of many businesses and activities for which he was known, including his election in 1998 to the Bluffton Town Council and service as mayor pro tem.
Chef B’s food truck is frequently seen at events she caters but during the height of the pandemic, it was a different story.
“During the pandemic we were out like every single day because people weren’t able to go and dine, and communities were happy to have the food truck because we were able to bring the restaurant to the community,” she said. “Now that things have kind of opened back up, we’re seeing less of a demand for the truck, and more of a demand for catering for events and stuff like that.”
Her larger goal and dream is to have a culture heritage center in Bluffton that tells the story of Gullah families and life in Bluffton.
“There’s Hilton Head and Mitchelville, but there are other stories here, such as my grandfather, who was one of the people who originally owned the oyster factory. It was a Gullah co-op, but people not from this area don’t know that,” Frazier said. “I want to create a food experience because it’s a great equalizer. When you sit down and you’re eating good food, you can start a conversation around a dish about everything.”
Oscar was born and raised in Bluffton. While visiting relatives in Charleston, he met and eventually married Sadie Wilson, and settled in the area. When Bridgette was 2, her mother became ill, and the family moved back to Bluffton where Oscar’s family could help raise the children. There was an older sister from a previous relationship her father had, and then two brothers with which she was the middle child. When she was 7, her mother died, leaving a lifelong impact on her.
“She was a shining star. Sadie is the one I speak of when I talk about how she would get neighborhood kids together and quiz us on historical facts for prizes,” said Frazier. “Marcia Renea Frazier is my bonus mom whom my dad met and married in 1995 after my mother’s death.”
Despite her loss, Frazier has warm memories of what she called “the best times of my life outside of college” while growing up at her grandmother’s house on Simmonsville Road.
“We loved wild honeysuckle, and my siblings and I would find a honeysuckle bush and sit there all day. My grandparents were very earth green. They had five acres of land and they farmed on two of them,” she said. “We had every vegetable, we had sugarcane, watermelon, Muscadine grapes called bull grapes, a pear tree and plums. In the fields we had okra, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, field peas, blackberries. I love okra fried with shrimp, onions and gravy, pickled on a hamburger or hotdog, or dehydrated like a chip.”
Her early school days were spent at Goethe Day Center and then M.C. Riley. Her outgoing personality was quickly acknowledged by her teachers.
“I’ve always loved reading, and I would always be the one the teacher would call on to read aloud,” she said. “I would always be given the note of ‘talks excessively’ on my report cards – surprisingly.”
There was a more serious side of her school days, too.
“From the time my mom died – from second grade to sixth grade – I had a lot of difficulties behavior-wise. I was kind of checked out. I was not focused in class, and would be a problem kid,” said Frazier. “At one point they talked about putting me on Ritalin until Janice Barnwell, a social worker at M.C. Riley, requested to get me. She would have all these sensory toys in her office, and it would be a calming thing. We would watch videos about how a child copes with the loss of a parent, and dealing with grief. She helped me deal with that.”
From that point Frazier said she became a really good student.
“I loved English and loved math, and as I got into middle and high school my two standouts were definitely English and history,” she said. “As an adult, I can see why my dad refused to medicate me. I’m a real creative, and bouncing around doing all kinds of things.”
The Hilton Head High School graduate was president of Junior IMAGES – Inspiring Minorities to Greater Educational Success, part of a group called Strive To Excel that focused on students who were first generation potential college students.
“They worked with us on SAT prep, writing essays, writing goals. I remember the book they used ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.’ We’d do that, and then they would have different career people come in to help people navigate their futures,” Frazier said. She was also a senator with student government and sang with the gospel and concert choirs.
She chose to attend South Carolina State University, and when she graduated in 2005 with a degree in secondary education, she took a job in West Palm Beach through a program sponsored by the NAACP.
Within a month of her dad moving her to Florida, and settling into her new job, she received word that her father was gravely ill with stage 4 cancer. Her new principal put her on a red-eye flight, and Frazier was able to spend two weeks with her father before he died. He was just 49; her mother had died at age 32.
“I looked back at times and it made sense that people like that don’t get to stay around too long. You don’t find people like that who are so selfless,” she said. “He’s responsible for my beliefs, my ways of thinking. My opportunity to be my authentic self is due in large part to him.”
It is no surprise that she has become involved in local government. Frazier was involved in activism from the time she was in high school.
“In high school I knew that politics was going to be in my life. As a child, my father made us sit in the living room and watch Dan Rather and Ed Bradley. I was captivated by that. In college I was always involved in some movement, and every Martin Luther King holiday we would march to the capital. At the time it was getting them to remove the Confederate flag,” said Frazier. “In West Palm Beach, I would rally for higher wages for teachers, and when Trayvon Martin was killed, I took off work and we were marching with signs. Things like that always charged me up, that we belonged to a larger group of decency and civility. I knew I would always be a change-maker.”
In 2012, Frazier left her teaching job in West Palm Beach and returned to Bluffton.
“Every time I came back I saw that the Gullah community was disappearing, and that there was not enough equity. I want to be a part of something that ensures that erasure doesn’t not happen, and to be part of something that teaches,” she said.
Her first step was to run for Beaufort County School Board. She didn’t win that election but remained undeterred.
“I got the inspiration to run for the council from the community and successfully did so, and I’m fortunate that I’m always told by my colleagues that the perspective I am able to bring the council is unique,” said Frazier. “I come from the everyday common person and I’m rooted more in humanity and people than policy. I think policy should be written in a way that positively impacts people more than becoming a burden.”
Although she is the daughter of a much-loved former councilman, any pressure to match his reputation is not coming from the public.
“It is self-imposed. With what he did and what he was able to achieve, I want to make sure that I not live up to his legacy – because he etched his own – but make my own legacy,” she said. “What I don’t want to do is to sully the legacy he left. I am able to stand on his shoulders, but I want to be able to exert the same kind of influence he did to the world.”
One of Frazier’s goals as councilwoman is what she calls “lofty, even utopian.”
“I would really love for conversation to be achieved on true affordable housing for our hourly workers. And I would like to really look at bringing in developers or seeing if that’s something the town could orchestrate with various contractors and land space that we have,” she said. “I’d like to have someone to come in to address and give those hourly workers a place to live, because they want to live and work in the same area.”
She’d also like to have the community become more environmentally friendly, get people to understand that pushing for equity with the black community is not about race or superiority, and recognize in a tangible way the work carried out during the pandemic by groups like the town’s Public Works employees.
“We have the opportunity as council to use the American Recovery Act and funds like that to be able to give a hazard pay to certain employees,” she said. “The public works guys have been boots on the ground the entire pandemic. I want to see them be compensated for that, them and the police officers who were in the thick of COVID. They were putting themselves in harm’s way and out doing things, and they should be compensated in ways that shows we appreciate them.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.