With a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, March 8, 2018, at 6 p.m., South Side businessman, civic leader and pastor Dr. Leon Finney, Jr. reopened the legendary, family-owned Leon’s at 1528 E. 63rd St. in the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood. This Chicago gem will be reborn thanks to two-time Academy Award-winning Actor Denzel Washington’s search for the celebrated restaurant last September – only to be told it no longer exists.
Washington visited the city’s South Side a few months ago in search of the ribs he still remembered from childhood at Leon’s. When he couldn’t find Leon’s, Washington, declaring himself a “regular person,” knocked on the door of an 86-year-old grandmother, Juanita Hubbard, and asked for directions to the restaurant.
He soon learned that Leon’s had closed its doors, leaving him with a 50-year craving. The actor graciously stayed to talk with Ms. Hubbard (who is arguably his biggest fan) and her family, posing for pictures and a video that later went viral.
Seeing the famous actor in the video, trying to find the food his father had perfected decades ago, Dr. Finney was moved to bring great barbecue back to the South Side.
“People were always asking me if we had reopened Leon’s,” Dr. Finney said. “Seeing the video of Denzel and knowing the popularity we have enjoyed gave me that extra push to get the ball rolling.”
Dr. Finney’s father founded Leon’s in 1940. In its heyday, the barbecue restaurant had four locations throughout the South Side and tens of thousands of customers. It earned the distinction as Chicago’s best barbecue.
“Unfortunately, we had to close down for a few years — but we’re here to stay now, and invite everyone to come enjoy our food,” Dr. Finney added.
Leon’s is most notably famous for its hickory-smoked ribs, sausage links, fried catfish, and heaps of crispy french fries, but Dr. Finney credits his late father’s game-changing barbecue sauce with the restaurant’s success. During a television interview, he told Windy City Live’s Val Warner that he remembered his father saying, “Keep that barbecue sauce right, keep it tangy, and the customers will tear down the door to get in.”
The audience applauded their approval as Dr. Finney quipped, “We’re going to send Denzel Washington a case of ribs and two gallons of sauce – if we can find him!” to more cheers from the audience, who feasted on the delectable ribs in award-winning sauce, courtesy of Leon’s Chicago’s Best BBQ & Grill.
“Now, whenDenzel ask ‘Where is Leon’s?’, you can say, ‘Here is Leon’s.’”