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Octavia Cordon thought she had seen all of her husband Cam’s dreams of independence.

He had a lot of ideas. One involved buying a recreational vehicle, gutting it and converting it into a food truck. That didn’t pan out.

Then came the chicken coop.

“I saw that thing and I thought, ‘Pack your s---,’ ” she said Tuesday. “You’re gonna be livin’ in that thing! That was the last straw. I really had to see the work in progress to see what he was seeing.”

More than a year ago, in the doldrums of COVID-19, Cameron, two generous friends and a wayward artist all pitched in to create the physical plant of Phat Daddy’s on Da Tracks, which came bursting from the gastronomical womb Tuesday on a glorious, if blustery, opening day.

“Oh, gosh, 12 or 12:30, during lunch, it was crazy,” Octavia said as six people waited in line around 4 p.m. Music pumped and people were happy.

To get to Tuesday, the couple never quit. They ran a moving business, Walk by Faith. Cameron cooked all over town, including stints at John and Keeley Steele’s Bluegrass Kitchen and Tricky Fish. The Steeles were there Tuesday.

It had always been Cameron Cordon’s dream to run his own place. Thirty-one years ago, while living in Harlem, New York, Shanequa Smith remembers talking to Cameron on a street corner about his dreams. She was there, too, Tuesday, part of a contingent of Black New Yorkers — friends and relatives — who moved to Charleston about 20 years ago, not long after 9/11. The Cordons are part of that diaspora.

“This is his baby,” Smith said. “You could see the tenacity. It’s finally here.”

Fried whiting sandwiches, steak sandwiches, pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket and the impressive Phat Daddy Dog — a quarter-pound beef hot dog with homemade chili and white cheddar — all emerged from the outside grill to perfection. That isn’t the extent of the offerings.

It’s not a dreamy spot, 4800 Railroad Ave. The avenue is only an alley separating Phat Daddy’s from the railroad tracks. The alley intersects at one end with Watts Street, runs behind some buildings and emerges just beyond Denver’s Depot at Maryland Avenue.

The Cordons’ venture started when property owner John Bullock offered Cameron the coop. He smirked. Then he worked. Rent was cheap.

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With a sizable boost from electrician Billy Dyess, overall handyman Scott Lanham and street artist Andy King — the unlikely quartet began hauling assorted pieces of sheet metal and the like from Bullock’s adjacent junkyard. Soon, with some expenditure on lumber for a new deck, the place looked like something.

King’s contribution of copyrighted, animated characters may or may not have passed legal muster but, so far, no one from Fox has shown up to demand a covering of Hank Hill’s well-done face. The sheet metal’s black, red and yellow pattern pops nicely.

Octavia estimates that the couple has about $20,000 in the venture. That is a small start-up cost, almost all in lumber and kitchen equipment. For a modest facility, the cooking instruments rock. Cameron is surrounded by a smoker, a fryer and two flat metal grills. That’s his outside operation. It can be covered in bad weather. In the coop, a grill and fryer run off console power, converted from electric to gas by Dyess.

As for the unlikely Mountain State migration, Ward 6 Councilwoman Deanna McKinney said she knew she had an aunt in Wheeling. Also, she said she thought West Virginia might be the tonic for the crazy atmosphere in New York following 9/11.

“But Charleston was more of a city,” she said. “We had others move here, too, family and friends from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.” Alas, she says, Charleston has shrunk, but it hasn’t retained quite the same friendly face. “It’s gotten rougher.”

McKinney said she hopes businesses such as Phat Daddy’s will spark the beginning of a Black-owned business movement. “This gives jobs to people like us,” she said.

Octavia’s nephew, Jesus Davis, 22, sat on one of the wooden benches lining the lumber deck Tuesday, wolfing down macaroni and cheese, cabbage and fried shrimp.

“I used to live with them,” Davis said. “They can really cook.” Davis said he was there on the fateful Offering of the Coop day. “I helped them get it from the junkyard to here.”

As for the man who finally saw his dream fulfilled, Cameron Cordon stayed too busy to talk much.

“I’m just happy we’re where we are now,” he said. “It took long enough. It’s not where we want to be. But a lot of people did show up to show support.”

For more information on Phat Daddy’s on Da Tracks, call 304-982-5020 or visit them on Facebook.

Greg Stone covers business. He can be reached at 304-

348-5124 or gstone@hdmedia

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