By Aaron Allen, Seattle Medium
After 66 years in business, R&L Home of Good Bar-B-Que is closing its doors.
For more than six decades the iconic restaurant, located in the Central Area, has provided good food and service to the Seattle community and beyond. Founded in 1952 by Rev. Hasting Mitchell along with Robert and Louise Collins, Home of Good’s savory barbeque sauce embedded within the smoke rising from its rooftop, fumigates Yesler Street forcing patrons to stop in the middle of street to shout “are you open?”
Mary L. Davis, the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Collins, was born in Tallulah, Louisiana in 1937. She moved to Seattle when she was fourteen. A graduate of Garfield High School and Edison Tech, which is now Seattle Central College, Davis has always considered Seattle home.
After she married and began starting a family, her and her husband who was in the military, moved across the pond to Europe where they live for several years. After his tour of duty in Europe and the demand for help that her parents needed, Davis came home and joined the family business in 1962.
In 1979, her parents retired from the business and Davis took over the leadership and has never handed over the reins. At a beautiful, young age of 81 Mary and her family have given nothing but love in their recipes as well as a family secret and has provided a service that entices everyone to step through their doors.
“One thing about my decision is I’m going to miss my customers, I love my customers. I’ve known generations of customers from Grandmothers, to mothers, to daughters and grandchildren,” said Davis.
“I love my customers, but we are closing because it is just that time,” she expressed with a sense of guilt and sadness.
Rev. Mitchell and Louise Collins started this venture in 1952 on the corner of 20th and Yesler, a block away from its present home. A fire at that location forced them to relocate to the place we know today. In 1962, the Collins family bought the business from Rev. Mitchell. During that time, Davis also owned Tradewinds Restaurant and Lounge on Martin Luther King, which later became the Rose Petals after she sold it.
Although I asked, she would not reveal the secret of the sauce, There are different sauces around the global and each has their distinctive flavors as unique as the individuals who experimented over generations to perfect their roux, but every once in awhile you come across a sauce that separates itself from its competitors.
The sauces ability to combine it’s sweetness, mixed with its sours, tantalizing the taste buds with its spices, barbeque sauce has risen in stature in some places above spaghetti sauce and ‘au jus’. Not to take away from any barbeque chefs and connoisseurs out there but when it came to Home of Good the bar was raised pretty high.
Like the diversity in coffee, sugar and cereals and other commodities, Fortune 500 companies have been established off of good food, why night Home of Good BBQ sauce? During this transition Davis has pondered on her future and what to do with that wonderful sauce.
“People always asking, ‘why don’t you sell that sauce?’ But I don’t know what I’m going to do with it,” says Davis. “Right know I just want to travel and see family.”
Although Davis was raised in the Pacific Northwest, her family origins come out of Louisiana. With three children, two daughters and a son, Davis travelled the world with her husband who was in the military until 1961 when she relocated back to the states to help run the business.
Her children, much like Davis, grew up in the business and help run it to this day, particularly her daughters and although her son grew up in the ambience of the restaurant, he left the business to become an officer with the Seattle Police Department.
“My children grew up in the business, my two daughter and son, ever since they were little,” Davis shares.
Home of Good Bar-B-Que is renowned. You knew as a kid it was special day, usually after church, when you had Home of Good, as it is affectionately known in the community. From their pounds of ribs and scraps and thangs, to their sandwiches and their sides it was always an event knowing Home of Good Bar-B-Que was for dinner.
The meat was cooked to perfection at times falling off of the bone because it was so tender. They offered sweet potato pie, cakes, all of the ingredients of home cooking but for the community and its people.
Over the years, many people stopped by R&L Home of Good Bar-B-Que, including many celebrities and prominent figures who were visiting Seattle at the time like B.B. King and Dean Martin of the famed Rat Pack.
During the week of November 8, 1961, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came by right at closing time and Rev. Collins had to open the doors. Rev. Collins was a staunch follower of Dr. King.
“Oh yeah, Dean Martin sent his chauffeur to get a plate,” says Davis as she recalls some of her fond memories at the restaurant. “Martin Luther King came when we were closing but because my dad was an enthusiastic follower of Dr. King, he had to open the door for him and Rev. McKinney.”
Throughout the years, the Davis family has remained pillars within the Central District of Seattle. As the Central District has slowly watched Black business die in gentrification, R&L’s has stood the test of time and the family has retired on their own terms.
“One thing about our business is we valued the community,” says Davis. “We fed a lot of people in the community, I never turned anyone down who was hungry.”
“We got robbed, I think once, and they came and took nothing but the ribs, the meat,” says Davis. “Left the money but took the meat and that was alright, I guess they were just hungry.”
Even through the Central Area’s rough patch of gentrification, nothing could not deter Home of Good from feeding the people.
“We suffered through that change a little bit, but our customers always came back, maybe not as often, but they grew up around us and always returned,” says Davis about coping with the demographic change of the area.
In closing, Davis wants to make sure that she reaches out and lets her customers know that she appreciates them, loves them and will forever cherish the friendships and memories that she acquired over the years.
“Home of Good has been really been a pleasant experience,” says Davis’ daughter Barbara. “Working with the customers who became my family and even now I miss them dearly. Like I tell them I’m happy for me, but unhappy for you.”
While it may be the end of an era, 1816 East Yesler Street in Seattle will always be Home of Good.
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