Andrew Augustus “Gus” Allen, Sr., was born on May 24, 1905, in Leesville, Louisiana. He moved to Galveston in 1922 and rose to become the owner of Gus Allen Enterprises and one of Galveston’s best-known African American entrepreneurs. His business interests were diverse and included motels, barbecue pit stops, restaurants, coffee shops, clubs, and apartment buildings, all of which catered to the African American community. Allen always told family, friends, and employees that, “Success comes before work in the dictionary.” He used the phrase quite frequently and always made sure he put in the hard work. In a July 25, 1980, edition of the Forward Times Metro Weekender, Allen took little credit for his accomplishments and instead praised the people he met along his business journey that offered advice he recognized as the foundation for his success.
When Allen arrived in Galveston in 1922, he found work at the historic Hotel Galvez on Galveston’s seawall. He shined shoes in the hotel lobby and was responsible for keeping the lobby clean. Seeking better job opportunities, Allen soon moved to Houston but opportunities were no better so Allen relocated again, to Kansas City. From Kansas City, Allen moved to Chicago, then Detroit, and finally, New York City. New York was not for him either and soon he was headed back down south. In Biloxi, Mississippi, Allen landed a job as a waiter in an upscale restaurant close to the Gulf of Mexico. Around the same time, he met E.C. Noey, who operated the local train station in Biloxi and assisted Allen in the development of the management and leadership skills he became known for later in life. In 1926, while he lived in Biloxi, Allen’s son, Andrew Augustus, Jr., was born. As a new father, Allen took the opportunity to put aside a few dollars every payday. By 1930, Allen had saved over $300 and he used the money to return to Galveston, where he wasted no time building his legacy.
After he returned to the island, Allen leased a building at 2704 Church Street and immediately opened the Dreamland Café. He hit the ground running and sold chili for 10 cents a bowl and two pork chops for a quarter. A steak dinner cost forty cents and a fish sandwich would only set you back a dime. If you couldn’t make it down to the Dreamland to get your supper, Allen also delivered. During the 1930s, Allen changed the name of the Dreamland Café to Gus Allen’s Café. Armed with the wisdom to invest in property and the ability to set aside a little of his profit in order to purchase real estate when it became available, Allen acquired the building next door to the café in 1937 and opened a boarding house.
Gus at Honey Brown’s counter. Photo courtesy of Rosenberg Library.During the time of racial segregation, Allen’s efforts to expand his commercial enterprises always focused on creating businesses where African Americans felt welcome. In 1947, Allen leased a building to Nelson “Honey” Brown and played a significant role in launching Brown’s culinary career. Brown opened Honey’s Barbecue in the leased building and served legendary barbecue to the citizens of Galveston for four decades. A few months after Honey Brown’s opened, Allen opened the Gus Allen Hotel at 2711 Church Street as well as a barbershop next door at 2709 Church. With his hand already in the barbecue game, thanks to Honey Brown, Allen pivoted and turned his attention to seafood. His good friend, Albert Fease, had culinary aspirations with seafood and wild game. Allen was certain Fease would be a successful restaurateur so he backed his friend when Fease opened Fease’s Café, later known as the Jambalaya Café, in another one of Allen’s buildings.
As the 1940s rolled into the 1950s, Allen’s business moves helped define African American life in Galveston for the next three decades. In 1952, the Gus Allen Café went through a transitional period that led to Allen turning the business over to John S. Temple. He and his wife took control of the daily operations and eventually changed the name to Temple’s Café. Around the same time, Gus Allen, Jr., opened a café at 2818 Ave R ½ and named the business Little Gus Allen’s. Located on the same block as Albert Fease’s business, all of the 2800 block of Avenue R ½ would soon belong to Allen. Located on the Seawall, the block was directly across the street from the segregated beach opened to African Americans. After Allen purchased the ocean view property, he also acquired several buildings along the 2700 block of Church Street across from his hotel and barbershop. There, he opened the Savoy Beauty Salon in 1952.
Photo courtesy of Rosenberg Library.By the late 1950s, Little Gus Allen’s Café had closed and Allen began to consider retirement. Instead, Allen added another challenge to his daily roster when he joined the Civil Rights movement in an effort to ensure the African American citizens of Galveston, as well as African American visitors to the island, had places to shop, lodge, and find entertainment. He continued to make every effort to provide a place on Seawall Boulevard for African Americans and in 1965, Allen opened the Gus Allen Villa and Café in the twenty-eight hundred block of R ½. One year after he opened the restaurant and villa, Allen purchased the building next door and demolished it to make way for a new building he erected that added fifteen rooms to the Villa. When completed, Allen relocated the Café to the first floor of the new building and the café’s old space, located on the corner of 29th & R ½, was remodeled and opened as a coffee shop and lounge.
Tragedy struck the Allen family several times over the next decade. Andrew Augustus “Baby Gus” Allen III was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968 and Andrew Augustus Allen, Jr., passed away on January 26th, 1971. Around the same time, through eminent domain, some of Allen’s real estate holdings north of Broadway were seized by the City of Galveston. It was a point of contention that troubled Allen. He felt that the African American community predominantly located on that side of Broadway was being treated unfairly. Allen successfully advocated for single-member districts within Galveston’s city government and paved the way for his son, Danny, to be elected to serve district two on the city council in 1993, a position he held until 2000.
In 1972, Allen and his wife, Bertha, were honored by Prairie View A&M University as Parents of the Year after they were nominated by their son, Danny, during his junior year at the university. Shortly after, Allen made the decision to close the Gus Allen Hotel at 2711 Church Street in order to focus his attention on the seawall location.
Photo courtesy of Rosenberg Library.Allen passed away on June 16, 1988. His service was held at Galveston’s Holy Rosary Catholic Church, the oldest African American Catholic church in the state of Texas, followed by interment at Galveston’s Memorial Cemetery. During his life, Allen considered every possibility when he approached any decision and as a result, he enjoyed success at multiple levels. Longtime friend, Vic Fertitta, praised his friend’s “solid business mind and talent, limited by segregation.” Civil rights icon Dorothy Height once said, “Greatness is not measured by what a man or woman accomplishes, but by the opposition, he or she has overcome to reach his goals.” Andrew Augustus Allen, Sr., overcame a wealth of opposition and achieved a level of greatness in life that stands as a model to all of humankind.
Galveston Historical Foundation