THE VILLE – North St. Louis has its share of naughty things and is devoid of a lot of amenities, but for several years, there has been a place to buy good, quality, southern-grown nuts.
It’s a nice treat for northsiders like Red Phillips.
He’s been pulling up on the gravel lot at Maffit and Newstead avenues for the last 20 years to buy pecans.
Consider it a gift from Francis J. Roberson II.
Affectionately called “the peanut man,” by some, he began selling pecans at that intersection forty years ago. A salesman by spirit, Hakeem (which he later became), was there until the day he died, January 9, 2017.
“Man, it’s not the same without him here, but I still love coming to get my nuts,” said another customer, Patrick Watson. Watson remembers seeing Roberson selling nuts while the young Patrick walked home from school.
“They’re good,” Phillips agreed. But like others in the neighborhood, he used to stop by not only to buy nuts but to talk to Hakeem.
Now, he stops by and talks to Phyllis Roberson-Davis. She runs the business, which came to be known as Hakeem and Daughters, with the help of her husband, Will Davis.
Roberson-Davis said her father loved the community in return.
In 1996 he had pillars built around his lot – not just for him, but to help beautify the neighborhood he loved. And even when he was suffering fourth-stage lung cancer, he demanded that she take him to his corner, his business, Hakeem and Daughters.
“He said, ‘I want to see my people,’” Roberson-Davis said he expressed. She granted his wish.
Roberson-Davis also granted his wish that she continue the business. By 1991, it had grown to include her and a vehicle for selling snow cones throughout the city.
“I keep hearing him talking to me, saying, ‘Take it and run with it,’” Hakeem’s daughter said.
“I’m not going anywhere – they’re going to have to run me off. I promised him that I will keep it going, and I will hold my promise,” she said.
Watson remarked that many of the small businesses once nearby were now gone.
“A lot of them have passed away,” he said recalling other longtime businesses in the area.
He name-dropped “the T-Shirt man” at Marcus and St. Louis avenues; former police officer and convenience store owner Joe Phillips at Labadie and Newstead avenues; and the Yellow Ball shoe repair shop down the street on Natural Bridge Boulevard.
“It’s good his daughter is taking over,” Watson said.
Roberson-Davis is the only one of Hakeem’s offspring who has taken a crack at participating or keeping and running the business.
She has help. Because she works another job and can’t be there all of the time, her husband mans the business many days.
And during the Christmas holiday season, which is the busiest, she said, she employs her great-niece, who seems very interested in learning the business.
Hakeem would be proud.
“One thing my dad told us is that you can’t depend on a job, because it may be gone tomorrow,” Roberson-Davis said. “‘What are you going to do? You have to know how to do something, and the more you know the better off you are,’” Hakeem once told his devoted daughter.
One thing Hakeem could do is sell – “anything.”
He held a handful of sales jobs that included selling clothing, insurance and ads for the former St. Louis Sentinel newspaper.
“He was a country boy, and he was just a natural-born salesman,” Hakeem’s daughter said. “He knew how to sell you something. Some people have that gift. He would sell you if he could.”
She too is a seller. A licensed real estate broker, she sells houses and insurance, in addition to nuts and snow cones.
“I think I have that knack too; it’s a family trait, but my dad taught me and beat me [at selling],” she admitted.
Her dad, she said, would drive to Forrest City, Ark., where he was born, to buy nuts. He would return with two or three thousand pounds to sell each year. She sells about half of that, but she can’t work at the lot as long he used to.
The quality of nuts plays a part in her continuing success.
“You’re not going to get any nuts any fresher than these,” she explained. “They’re this year’s crop. They’re always the current year’s crop. They haven’t been just sitting on shelves,” said Roberson-Davis, who, like her dad, loves to eat them.
“I live off of them. They’re very healthy. I gotta have them,” Hakeem’s daughter said.
Pecans are the biggest sellers, but they also sell peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, chestnuts and almonds – raw and roasted.
Roberson-Davis said more healthy items would soon be added to the truck, which has a full kitchen.
It also has a merry photo of her dad to remind her of the past and sell her on the future.
“I keep him here,” she said.