Orlando Watson, an entrepreneur from the St. Louis area, shares the story
ST. LOUIS – “I watched my leg die.”
In November 2019, Orlando Watson, 44, concert promoter and co-owner of Prime 55 restaurant on the U. City Loop, had to make a tough decision.
Sarcoma cancer had developed in his left leg, below the knee. It wasn’t the first time. In 2006, lymphatic cancer had manifested in the same knee. He initially rejected traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
He decided to travel to Mexico to meet with Dr. Hulda Regehr Clark, an alternative medicine practitioner and author of The Cure for All Diseases. With Clark and additional help from the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, Watson was declared “cancer free”.
But the cancer came back in the same place.
“The lower part of my leg went numb. I couldn’t feel it anymore. It was starting to turn black, tumors were sticking out of my skin, ”recalls Watson.
“The pain got so bad that I called the surgeon and said, ‘Okay, man, go ahead, take it.”
Doctors said the returning melanoma was “post-radiation cancer,” which Watson said was caused by radiation treatment he received 14 years earlier. He was told there was no cure.
Watson’s leg was amputated above the knee almost to the hip. As he recovered from this, another disaster rocked his business world: COVID-19.
“The pandemic has hurt the concert side of our business the most. The venues were generally closed. In fact, the entire industry has shut down, ”recalled Watson.
“I thought we’d have to close the restaurant too, but God had other plans.”
Unlike many other companies, Prime 55, an upscale restaurant that opened seven months after Watson’s second diagnosis of cancer, survived. Business has been stable since the fall of 2020, but now that the city and county jointly announced new, relaxed guidelines, Prime 55’s economic forecast appears to be even better.
In 2011, Watson held a party in Forest Park called “I’m a Survivor” to celebrate five years cancer free. It was supposed to be a one-off event, but his mother died of lung cancer in 2012.
This tragic event, along with the participation and testimonies of cancer survivors, drove him to create the non-profit I’m A Survivor Cancer Foundation, which hosts the parties annually.
Watson said the name of the nonprofit organization has particular relevance.
“I gave it this name because it’s my motto: I am a survivor,” he said.
Indeed. Watson’s incredible life story highlights the power of creativity, ingenuity and tenacious resilience. It’s the formula that encouraged him to fight cancer twice and overcome the rocky waves of COVID. That formula, Watson said, was sown at birth.
His maternal grandfather, Herman Dennis, fled the south at the age of 13 after being lynched. He soon moved to St. Louis and started his own construction company Dennis Construction in the 1930s. His father owned a cleaning company and his uncle was also an entrepreneur.
“I liked the way entrepreneurship felt to them,” recalled Watson. “So I knew early on that I wanted to work for myself.”
Watson, a native of University City, did just that. In the 1980s, he befriended a college high school colleague who would later become known as “DJ Charlie Chan Soprano” (best known as a turntable player and DJ for Run-DMC). Watson began producing marketable pieces of music and beats. After graduating from high school, he moved to Atlanta and kept making music. In the 1990s, his production company “Ol School” was signed to the record label of R&B singer Keith Sweat.
A poor deal with Warner Brothers Records, Watson said, forced him to learn more about property and get paid fairly for his work. Soon he switched from making music to producing albums. His company “PrettyBoy Productions” (later Prettyboy Records) was part of the production team that created the Bone, Thugs-N-Harmony album “Strength & Loyalty”. The album was awarded “Gold” by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Watson and the album staff, which included Akon, Jermaine Dupree, Mally Mall and Swizz Beatz, quickly became friends. These relationships proved valuable when Watson founded Rockhouse Entertainment with partner Bradd Young in 2005.
The independent recording, concert, management and promotion company has produced hundreds of concerts locally and nationally with artists including Kelly Roland, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Jodeci, Megan The Stallion, Kodak Black, Toni Braxton and the late DMX.
Together with his old classmate from University City High School, Tony “T-Luv” Davis (rapper, Nelly’s former manager), the two decided to get into the restaurant business. They wanted to “fill a void,” Davis told the St. Louis American in 2019.
“I’ve been to places in other cities where you go to dinner, socialize for a few hours, and then go home,” said Davis. “Myself and Orlando felt that St. Louis didn’t have that kind of point of contact for our community. When you say “great”, people know that it means top notch.
The two-story restaurant may have been a superlative experience for customers, but partners had a tough time in the first few months, said Watson.
“We knew the bar side of the business from the entertainment game. But as for the food, we have no experience. We just jumped out of there, ”he explained.
Just as the partners got into a groove and made a profit with the restaurant, Cancer and COVID-19 raised their respective heads.
But Watson had battled cancer during the production of the album Bone, Thugs-N-Harmony. He survived it again in 2020.
Next week, Watson will be working on his $ 70,000 Smart Leg prosthesis. In addition, the doctors at the Siteman Center gave him a drug that appears to shrink tumors that have spread to his lungs.
He hopes that the concert ban will be lifted soon. When the time comes, his concerts will resume, but carefully, stressed Watson.
Watson said neither COVID nor cancer could stifle his entrepreneurship.
“I come from some tough people. I was born to be a survivor, ”he said.