EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- It's the start of a new chapter in the story of an Evanston institution that began 37 years ago by the late Hecky Powell. His widow, Cheryl Judice, is keeping his memory alive.
The suburban restaurant held an emotional reopening Friday, not only amid the pandemic but also a great personal loss.
Hecky's Barbecue closed six weeks ago for renovation after Powell died from COVID-19.
Friday's reopening came on what would have been his 72nd birthday.
"I know that he is so happy that I got it done," his widow said. "I could hear him in my ear the whole time, 'get this place back open. What are you thinking?'"
Powell passed away earlier this year after contracting COVID-19. At first, his symptoms were mild and then all of sudden he started to have shortness of breath.
"He passed like 28 hours after he got to the hospital," Judice said. "I had no idea when the ambulance came to get him that would be the last time I would see him."
Despite his absence, his presence is still felt around the restaurant.
"Hecky was like a friend to everybody around him," said longtime customer Anthony Bass.
Floyd Johnson started as a dishwasher two weeks after Hecky's opened in 1983, now he's the general manager.
"It's like having a big hole in your heart but it really helps having his family here," Johnson said. "They carry his spirit and just the memory of all he and I have been through together, it l keeps me going."
Powell's giving spirit endeared him to his longtime customers. Some of them returning for the grand reopening to show their support, and for the food they have been craving for weeks.
"It is the sauce, but I love the smoke turkey legs because I am too lazy to do it myself," said patron Lisa McDonald. "But I got the greens, and macaroni and cheese too."
"This restaurant is more than a restaurant. It is really Evanston. It represents the best of the people," Judice added. "My husband loved the city and he was from here, and all I am doing is maintaining that legacy."
Hecky's has been doing well despite the pandemic. The BBQ establishment was never a sit-down restaurant, and always catered to takeout.