Before he became known for his barbecue sauce, Hecky Powell was the Executive Director of Neighbors at Work, a community economic development association in Evanston.
But after years in social service, he felt he could do more for the community by giving local kids jobs and teaching them a trade. He bought the small restaurant at the corner of Emerson and Green Bay Roads in 1983, and Hecky’s Barbecue was born.
“My parents had been forced into retirement, and they wanted something to do. My mother, Verna, is Creole, and a great Southern cook. My dad, Forrest, was a domestic worker on the North Shore. He gave me my work ethic,” Hecky says.
And the food? People drive from all over for those red beans and rice, rib tips and sweet potato pie. “All the recipes are my mother’s,” he confesses with a grin. “My name’s just on the place.”
Actually, his name is all over Evanston (and the North Shore—you can find his sauce at Sunset Foods and Foodstuffs): on the jerseys of hundreds of Little Leaguers as a long-time sponsor of Evanston Baseball.
He’s raised five kids in Evanston—Sharmin, Dawn, Hecky Jr., Jason and Gordon—and he and wife, Cheryl Judice, a Sociology professor and administrator at Northwestern, are still committed to the community. Hecky has always been concerned with public education; he served on the District 65 School Board for four years.
After his father’s death in 1993, he started the Forrest E. Powell Foundation to help kids pay for trade and vocational schools, and to recognize people who demonstrate a great work ethic and strong family values.
A tree limb with three branches is the symbol of the Foundation. It has special meaning to Hecky. “It’s the branch that I cut from a downed tree with my dad the day he died,” he remembers. “It stands for Community, Family and Spirituality. That’s what he stood for; that’s what he taught us.”
Hecky still has that branch.
For more information on the Forrest E. Powell Foundation and Hecky’s restaurant, visit heckys.com