Hecky’s continues to serve ‘the sauce,’ even amid the pandemic


Photo courtesy Hecky's Barbecue

Employees at Hecky’s Barbecue continue to serve barbecue to customers. While social distancing and extra cleaning measures have been implemented, not much else has changed.

Molly Burke, Reporter

For 37 years, Hecky Powell has brought good barbecue to Evanston. Now, amid the pandemic, lines continue to form outside of the famous establishment, with customers six feet apart and faces covered in masks.

The pulled pork, chicken wings and famous barbecue sauce, all recipes from Powell’s mother, continue to draw customers in.

Clarence Weaver, founder of the Black Business Consortium of Evanston North Shore, said the continued support is a testament to the work Powell has done for the community since opening his restaurant in 1983.

“It’s not just a business that sells barbecue, but he actually is legendary in terms of what he provides in terms of leadership to the community,” said Weaver. “As a black business owner myself, we all look up to Hecky for what he’s done over the years.”

For example, Hecky’s Barbecue offers Evanston Township High School students employment opportunities. In June of 2016, Powell founded the Work Ethic Program, designed to teach students a trade.

Students apply to the program, which provides a paid summer internship, a tuition stipend, workplace training and mentoring opportunities. Powell believes the program is beneficial to both the students and businesses of the Evanston community.

“I like working with people that really want to help themselves and make something out of themselves. I don’t care if it’s college, a trade or whatever,” Powell said.

Employees at Hecky’s Barbecue have had to adjust to safety regulations, but have continued to work busy shifts. Powell said the business has been prosperous enough to continue to employ all workers.

The restaurant has felt fortunate with its booming business and has given back by donating meals to homeless shelters, the fire department and hospital staff, he said.

The shelter-in-place order and the coronavirus pandemic have caused decreased business for many other Evanston restaurants. Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak said most restaurants are operating at 30 percent of their peak revenue, even after shifting to delivery and pick-up services.

While many other restaurants have struggled to adjust to social distancing guidelines, Hecky’s Barbecue has always offered delivery, pick-up and catering.

Powell said he has noticed a slight change in the amount of customers, especially with many Northwestern students returning home. Despite the uncertainty, Powell said he makes sure to keep work at the barbecue fun.

“We always have a good time, whether it’s working in the front line or the back line or the kitchen or out at an event,” catering director Aracely Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty fun.”

Even when Powell was first working to open the restaurant decades ago,, getting up early in the morning, working on a low budget and spending long days doing various tasks for the barbecue, having fun was a critical component of the job.

From picking-up the meat to cook to mopping the floors, Powell acted as the cook, the cleaner and the manager alongside his mother.

“It wasn’t nothing easy, but it was rewarding and actually, I made it fun,” Powell said. “And I enjoyed it.”

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Twitter: @mollyfburke

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