Christopher Hopkins was cooking seafood in his grandmother's front yard with his girlfriend, Lynette Blakeley. As the two of them chatted over sizzling crab legs and shrimp, they came up with their future restaurant's name.
Inspired by the four palms making the food together, they landed on the name 4 Paumes (paumes is the French translation of palms, pronounced like “pome”). The restaurant sells seafood and chicken, and the recipes are Hopkins' innovations.
"I think of it like giving people a flavor that is not around, so it's like a foreign taste," Hopkins, 24, said. "Not French, but it's a foreign taste."
However, before the front yard cookout, Hopkins had his two palms chained behind his back.
Hopkins was charged with marijuana possession with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to 372 days in prison at the Department of Corrections at Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont, FL.
"I experienced modern-day slavery,” he said. “I truly experienced modern-day slavery where you didn't have a choice but to get up and work. If you didn't, you get beat up, you get pepper-sprayed and locked into a box for 60 days. I witnessed this."
Hopkins suffers from ocular sarcoidosis, a disease that affects his vision. During his time in prison, he had a particularly bad flare up, causing his eyes to swell up and be bloodshot red. He said the prison staff would not give him his medication or any pain reliever, and even if he was too sick to work, he was forced to get up.
"When I was forced to work while I was sick, it made me really want to put myself in a position to make a change," he said.
Once Hopkins was free, he said he worked every day and saved his money. He became deaf to doubters and haters, and he focused on his vision for his business and a better future. His work paid off when ten months later, he held the keys to his first restaurant.
A Gainesville native, Hopkins was born and raised in the Copeland community. It was destined that he ended up opening his restaurant in the same community he grew up in, he said. Hopkins envisions opening multiple businesses throughout Gainesville in the future, he said. He plans to get involved in the technology industry, as well as expand his food business.
His time in prison gave him the drive to be great, he said. The oppression and cruelty he faced behind bars propelled him to who he is today.
With the Black Lives Matter movement and recent public outrage over George Floyd's murder and other injustices, Hopkins said he had felt local support from both the Black and white community in Gainesville.
"I look at the protests, and I see it as a benefit," he said. "I see racism as a big problem."
4 Paumes has been open since March 16, 2020. With the ongoing pandemic, business trickled to a halt, but in the past month, he slowly picked up again.
Amy Dinh, a 47-year-old health care worker, ate at 4 Paumes with her family to support Gainesville’s local businesses.
“With the current impact of corona on small businesses, as well as the tremendous racial inequality that many caucasians are finally beginning to ‘see’ and acknowledge, it felt great to support a young African American” Dinh said.
Hopkins hopes his restaurant can serve as a location where everybody can come together and enjoy each other's company, regardless of race.
"When I was in prison, I told everybody, I said, ‘When y'all get out, y'all look up 4 Paumes and stop by come see me because I have a restaurant,’" he said. "I wanted to make sure that I can be an example for all of them inside of the system."
This story is a part of an Avenue series called “The Voices of Gainesville” meant to spotlight black-owned businesses, black artists and black musicians in Gainesville.
Michelle Holder is a second-year journalism student at UF minoring in entrepreneurship and a Metro reporter at The Alligator. She is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. In her free time she enjoys going to coffee shops and reading.