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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.

ORAL HISTORY

Rose Campisi


Rose's Devil Crabs

Rose Campisi was born in 1952 in what is now known as the Seminole Heights section of Tampa. Her grandparents, Isabelle and Angelo Campisi, emigrated to Tampa from Palermo, Sicily through Ellis Island. They settled in Tampa and met while working in a cigar factory. The couple opened the Orange Front Market on Nebraska Avenue in the 1930s, which began as a fruit stand.

The Campisis were known for the gladiolas, which customers would buy to take to the cemetery. The story eventually grew to provide groceries and a meat department. Rose’s father, Victor (who’s nickname was Red), helped his parents with the store and eventually started his own business working as a retailer at the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market. He left the produce market to raise cattle until his death in 1964. Rose’s first husband, Ernest Brantley, was in the military, and they moved from Tampa to North Carolina to Louisiana to Hawaii, where Rose started making devil crabs because she missed the ones she and her husband used to buy every Saturday along with Cuban sandwiches at Brocato’s back in Tampa.

After Ernest died in 1990, Rose’s twin brother approached her about buying a restaurant in the Tampa Whole Produce Market, where her father’s legacy is deeply respected. In 1991 the siblings opened Red’s Twins’ Café, in honor of their father. Rose served hearty plates of steak Milanese, spaghetti and meatballs, and devil crabs to producers and distributors from three in the morning until noon.

Her devil crab recipe evolved with the help of her second husband, Harold Murphy. After business slowed at the restaurant, Rose and her brother sold it. She works for Coastal Produce at the market a few days a week. But it is her devil crab tradition continues on as the main stay of her business, as she makes them for markets and restaurants around Tampa like Plato Latino, A & P Produce, Café de Marco, and Wahoo’s.

Date of interview:
2015-02-11

Interviewer:
Sara Wood

Photographer:
Sara Wood

Download Transcript

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