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Hecky Powell, Founder of Evanston’s Landmark Barbecue Restaurant, Has Died

Hecky’s Barbecue debuted in 1983

An African-American man in a red shirt, smiling.
Hecky Powell, founder of Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston, has died.
Hecky’s Barbecue [Official Photo]

Hecky Powell, the owner of suburban Evanston smoked meat landmark Hecky’s Barbecue, has died from pneumonia suffered after exposure to COVID-19. Powell, who opened Hecky’s 37 years ago, is remembered as a dedicated community leader. He was in his 70s, according to CBS Chicago.

Hecky’s debuted in 1983 and quickly earned legions of loyal fans for ribs, rib tips, chicken, and more — crafted from Creole recipes passed down by his mother and grandmother. He used an aquarium smoker, giving suburbanites a taste of genuine Chicago-style barbecue. The restaurant’s barbecue sauce is now sold by the bottle. He opened a second location on Halsted and Division in 2004, but the Lincoln Park outpost has been closed for years.

We are sad to announce the passing of our friend and yours Hecky Powell. We loved having him MC our annual tree lighting and of course his generous spirit and humor!

Posted by Downtown Evanston on Friday, May 22, 2020

For locals, Powell was more than a restaurant owner. He was a pillar of Evanston’s business community and a role model for black business owners in the area, Clarence Weaver, founder of the Black Business Consortium of Evanston North Shore, told the Daily Northwestern. He wove African-American history into his menu, most clearly in his “Juneteenth Strawberry soda,” the Chicago Crusader noted in 2019.

A restaurant worker pours barbecue sauce on top of meat.
Hecky’s famous sauce
Hecky’s Barbecue [Official Photo]

Powell was also known as a champion for local youth. In 1994 he founded the Forrest E. Powell Foundation, named for his father, which offers grant and scholarship opportunities. More recently, he created the Evanston Work Ethic Program, aimed at helping young people prepare for vocational or trade school.

Hecky’s has remained open during the pandemic and managed to maintain enough businesses to keep on the restaurant’s entire staff, the Daily Northwestern reported, and is donating meals to hospital workers, shelters, and the Evanston Fire Department. A call to the restaurant Friday went unanswered.