Edna Stewart’s parents were sharecroppers in Covington, Tennessee, until they moved to Chicago in 1936. Edna was born two years later. As a young woman, Edna went to nursing school. But in 1966 Edna’s father, Samuel Mitchell Sr., decided that he wanted to go into the restaurant business. All he needed was a cook. So Edna and her then-husband went into business with her father and opened Edna’s Restaurant. Their first location was inside a bowling alley and dance hall, so they had customers immediately. But it was Edna’s fried chicken and biscuits that really brought them in. Edna learned to cook from her Tennessee-born mother, so her menu is soul food, pure and simple. And her restaurant is a landmark. Edna has fed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Jesse Jackson. The restaurant survived the 1968 riots. All these years—and biscuits—later, Edna’s is still the cornerstone of this West Side community.
It is with sadness that we report than Edna passed away in June of 2010. Though Edna’s Restaurant closed soon after, former employees have reopened the business as “Ruby’s,” where they still cook with Edna’s recipes.
Listen to Edna on this week’s OKRACAST: