I am certain that I have eaten in every Black-owned restaurant in Bloomington-Normal that opened after I moved to Bloomington in 1968 so let’s take a walk down memory lane for Black History Month.
All of the early Black-owned restaurants that I remember were located on Bloomington’s west side. Jim’s Bar Bq, 1100 block of West Locust Street, had recently opened when I came to town, and I remember frequently sitting at the counter in the small restaurant and eating a delicious pork sandwich or two while chatting with owner James Sims.
A year or so after Jim’s’ opened, Marguerite Jackson opened Marguerite’s Bar-B-Cue at 812 W. Market St., later moving to Pine Street in Normal. She became well known in the community for her soul food.
Bacon’s Hickory Pit, owned by Bob Bacon, was a two-story building with a banquet room on the second floor located at 920 W. Washington St., the southeast corner of Washington Street and Morris Avenue. The Hickory Pit, with its hickory-smoked ribs, was very popular and open for almost all of the 1970s.
Milton Bell operated Bell’s BBQ, a full-service restaurant, in the 1100 block of West Locust Street in the early 1990s. Then after Milton closed, his son Sha Bell opened his version of Bell’s BBQ at 1105 W. Washington in the late 1990s.
In the mid-1980s, Ferrell Robinson opened Robinson’s Cocktails and Ribs in the 400 block in downtown Bloomington.
Then, I remember watching Robert McCrary build a 6-foot long, 3-foot wide masonry barbecue pit enclosed by tempered glass for his Mack Daddy’s Barbecue that opened in 1991 at 602 Kingsley St. in the former Gino’s Pizza. He described his barbecue as “Authentic Chicago-Pit Barbecue.”
The first Black-owned restaurant east of Veterans Parkway that I recall was Jonah’s Fish that Harvey Hale opened in Lakewood Plaza in 1997, then later changed the name to Noah’s Fish.
There have been other Black-owned restaurants in B-N over the years. However, I am quite sure the community has never had as many at one time as we do currently — Ray’s Steak & Lemonade, Bandana’s, Jersey Mike’s, A-Z Catering, Wesley’s Grill and The Coffeehouse. Dop’s Jerk House will open this spring. James Gaston’s Jazz Upfront in downtown Bloomington is a popular live music jazz and blues club.
From Larry’s notebook
DOP’S JERK HOUSE — The first B-N Jamaican jerk restaurant is planned for the former La Espiguita De Oro Mexican bakery location in Washington Center at 2303 E. Washington St. Owner Darryl Dopson told me both of his chefs are originally from Jamaica.
LA PATRONA FOOD TRAILER — The Flores family will be moving its food operation from the food trailer they have operated for 2½ years to the former Great Steak location in the Eastland Mall Food Court with an April 1 opening planned. They will continue to operate the food trailer at 1012 S. Main St. until the move.
SHANNON’S CAFÉ, DOWNTOWN — Shannon Patterson has returned to downtown Bloomington after an absence of 17 years. She recently opened The Café at 113 N. Center St. and will continue to operate Shannon’s Five Star at 1305 S. Mercer Ave.
A LARRY FAVORITE MENU ITEM — The steak Philly or fried steak Philly at Ray’s Steak & Lemonade in north Normal.
Carius, of Bloomington, is a former food program and plan review supervisor for the McLean County Health Department. His Facebook blog, Bloomington-Normal Restaurant Scene, has 31,000 followers.