‘We’re Family Now’

May 26, 2023

Written by Barry Kaufman
Photography by Ritterbeck Photography

If you were to look only at the ways in which Billy Watterson and Bridgette Frazier differ, you’d wonder how they ever wound up as friends.

On one side, you have Billy Watterson, the effortlessly energetic entrepreneur who landed in Bluffton just a few short years ago with a vision for expanding his midwestern business empire to the Southeast’s gentle climate. His efforts have proven fruitful, with a growing list of ventures including Burnt Church Distillery and island entertainment venue The Bank under his belt since he arrived.

In short, a textbook comeyah.

On the other, you have Bridgette Frazier, a woman who has spent the last few years rising beyond the shadow of her legendary father, Oscar. His efforts created in Bluffton a sense of unity that defied racial boundaries, and under Bridgette’s watch that unity has withstood the challenges of an increasingly fractured world. And she’s done all this while cooking up some of the best food you’ve ever tasted.

A binyah if ever there was one.

It doesn’t make sense, but that’s if you look only at the ways in which they differ. When you look at what they share — an unshakable sense of purpose, a deep well of respect and compassion for their fellow humans and a dogged determination to leave this world better than they found it — suddenly their friendship seems less like a novelty and more like an inevitability.

The only thing is, calling them friends isn’t quite accurate.

“We started out as acquaintances, became friends, and we’re family now,” Frazier said. “He’s Bub, I’m Sis.”

They met at a 2020 Juneteenth celebration, a time when the optimism that the day represented was tempered by the fresh wounds of unspeakable tragedy. Just weeks before, George Floyd was murdered on camera by police officers, sparking an international uproar against systemic racism and protests around the globe. Watterson, having already established himself as a powerful force for philanthropy through his pandemic-era Help 4 Hope Fund, arrived with an eye to do whatever he could.

A meeting was quickly set up – Frazier calls it the “cool kids’ meeting” – to have the difficult conversations that needed to be had. But more than that, it was about putting their considerable talents together to effect real change.

“He (talked about it as) something where those of us who have a platform of influence can help bridge that gap by speaking up, giving support and opening access where we can,” said Frazier. “And so from that day, it was just like, ‘I love this guy.’”

“I believe that entrepreneurs and other business leaders are uniquely positioned to step into this space and ask, ‘How we can help, what is it that we can do?’” added Watterson. “But before you can help, you have to learn and educate yourself. Because otherwise you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.”

For Watterson it’s not about white guilt. It’s not about stepping in and saving someone. It’s about understanding what can be done and offering support. For both, it’s about the Black community creating opportunities from within.

Learning from one another, growing from the lessons they taught one another, they became fast friends. But it was when Watterson rolled up to the spades table at the Frazier family barbecue and started unseating seasoned players that he became family.

It was time for these new siblings to start changing the world.

Added Watterson, “It was just like she said: acquaintances, best friends then family. The business part just came about because as we’ve worked together it’s been like,

‘Oh, my God, you’re the real deal.’ Knowing that about her, how passionate she is, especially with community, it was:  ‘Let’s do this. Now. Let’s see your dream come to life.’”

The first part of that dream was Ma Daisy’s Porch, set to open next year.

Part restaurant, part bakery, part open-air market and part cultural hub, this unique destination experience will celebrate our area’s unique Gullah culture.

“I’m excited about Ma Daisy’s because this is the first time since probably the ’80s that there will have been something this big and powerful in downtown Bluffton that represents Black business,” said Watterson.

That excitement is only amplified by Frazier, who has entertained dreams of opening a restaurant since she was 16 but sees Ma Daisy’s Porch as far more than just a restaurant.

“It’s exciting because it’s such a multifaceted project in terms of the benefits of it and what it’s going to provide,” she said. “It’s being able to give visibility to those of us who have been here and feel invisible and for those who have long gone and whose stories were never told.”

Now thanks to two acquaintances who became friends, and two friends who became family, those stories will reach a new generation.