Photo credit: Melanie L. Brown for Steed Media Service
What is your name and title?
My name is Sharon McKennie and I am the manager of MacArthur’s restaurant.
What is the history of your restaurant?
We opened in 1997 across the street at 5425 W. Madison St. The restaurant is owned by my uncle, Mac Alexander. We moved to this location in 2003 to a larger facility. Mr. Alexander was born and raised in Lexington, Mississippi. He’s the youngest of 11. He received his education at Valley State. He served in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Purple Heart. He lost his left leg while serving in the military. He’s married, he has one daughter. His wife is Albertine Alexander and his daughter is Vanessa, who is also a manager here at the restaurant.
How did you become a manager here?
Well Mac asked me and I’m not only a manager, I’m a chef at the restaurant. I was attending college and my uncle asked me to help start a restaurant. It was just a vacant building on Madison Street. He was trying to improve the community, provide jobs for people within the community. The idea was to come up with a family style restaurant which is not fast food, a restaurant where families could come and eat, no alcohol, family oriented, cafeteria style. People could come and make it affordable. We came up with the idea to just have everyday meals that people prepare at home and try to make it convenient, nothing fancy, no lobsters, steak, something convenient where the people in the neighborhood could afford to eat here.
Did he grow up on the West Side of Chicago?
He moved to Chicago and he was living on the West Side of Chicago. When he first opened up his first business it was on Damen and Lake street, Mac’s Records, which is currently across the street from the restaurant now at 5404 W. Madison St. He has a record store. He’s been on this side of Madison street for a number of years.
How did your uncle start the restaurant?
Actually it was just him, his own personal funding. We started small which is some booths and everything, we had few employees ad we were only open for lunch and dinner then we started breakfast. Then the business boomed so quick that he moved from this location which was originally the record shop. When people downsized from albums to cds he didn’t need too much room, so we kind of did a switch. The record shop moved across the street and we moved on this side of the street.
How long did it take to move?
It all happened in one weekend, Labor Day weekend. Then we were back open that Tuesday after Labor Day.
How many stores does he have?
He has the record shop, he has a restaurant but he owns a lot of real estate that he leases within the neighborhood.
Who develops the recipes?
Actually the recipes come from the combination of family’s recipes and also the cooks that work now. We come together and we try things and we pick the better of what we feel is acceptable and by taste. When he found the vacant tavern I believe that was vacant across the street at our original location in which was 5425 W. Madison. He wanted to have just a family restaurant. We came up March of 1997. The month of March was our trial month. We opened for free lunch. We put items out and we had people taste and make comments. We did that for a couple of weeks. We decided in April that we were ready to open. Business has been going well ever since.
What are your specialties?
Oh definitely fried chicken; fried chicken is my favorite.
What’s your uncle Mac Alexander’s favorite?
My uncle enjoys everything. Everything that he shouldn’t have he enjoys. Definitely he likes fried chicken, which is always a favorite.
How many employees do you have?
We have 22 full-time and about six part-time employees that work. We’re open now for breakfast. We started breakfast about 2 years ago again. We’re open from 7am to 10:45am for breakfast and we’re here from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for lunch and dinner.
How do you help the community?
Seventy percent of the the staff has a criminal record. Our goal was to always help offenders that may have a problem finding jobs elsewhere. We have been successful in that field and we wanted to train them to know that field. We wanted to train them to know that this doesn’t have to be your final stop. We want to train them and teach them the right way and we’ve been successful in doing that. Currently we have a full staff and our hope is to educate other businesses in the community to step out and hire ex-offenders in their business so that we don’t give them a reason to continue to commit crimes.
What’s next for MacArthur’s?
Mac really tries to concentrate on keeping the business. Personally I would like for us to find mores places to do catering. We do a lot of catering. We have a lot of people that want to do catering but we do not have a facility to do catering where people can have a baby shower, or repast or birthday party. If we can find a facility for that or if we find a nice facility to open up. We often have calls for people to do the southside or downtown.
How old is your uncle?
Who were some customers you had that you were amazed to have?
Actually Shaq [O’Neal] visited us and actually when he comes he likes to pay for the customers that come in while he’s here. He pays a tab. We’ve had Don King who was really generous in his tips, not only with the monetary gift but he gave tickets to the boxing matches that he was here promoting. We always have Mo’Nique. She likes to come and work behind the counter. You know and socialize with customers, which is good. We always have the Bulls, Derrick Rose and different people from the Bulls. We have Scottie Pippen who we’re honored to do his catering for him for different holidays when he’s in town. We get a lot of good people that come through Joe Jackson has been here, a lot of television news anchors have come to visit us and they’ve been very supportive. President Obama use to come here all the time as a state representative and as president of course he can’t come but he’ll have his secret service to come here and pick up food. We had Bill Clinton come here for breakfast a couple of weeks ago which was a good support for us to come here during the election. We’re honored to have everybody. We’re honored to have your magazine here.
Who are some of your regulars?
We actually have a lot of young men, single men that come and eat almost everyday. They’ll come and eat after work, then sit and socialize. We don’t serve alcohol it’s family oriented, reasonable. We get a lot of everyday people that come. We get a lot of retired people that come for breakfast. Usually Mac is here during that time where he get to socialize with the older guys who are retired.
What is your busiest day?
Sunday of course is our busiest after church. The best time to come is better lunch and dinner it’s not so bad. Mondays, the earliest part of the week is fine. The closer it get to the weekend is busy because we have tour buses that come. People visit to see plays or the circus or basketball games.
What are the busiest times?
The busiest time on Sundays is between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., or Saturdays about the same. We have basketball teams that come to visit, NBA teams to visit. We actually take food to the airport for them we pack food to take for them. We get kind of busy Business is going well and we have no complaints. We’re blessed. We’re happy for the support not only the neighborhood give us but worldwide. We get visitors all the time. President Obama has eaten here so we get people from different countries that want to come and enjoy some of the food. Since our former president Clinton has come we get people coming and asking
What did President Obama eat while here?
President Obama likes fried catfish and fried chicken. You know he likes to cheat when Michelle is not watching. I know the kids like fried chicken wings.
Did Michelle Obama ever come here?
Yes, the family has been here on several occasions.
Does Mac cook?
Mac doesn’t cook but he started the restaurant because he was trying to complete the neighborhood. He has barbershops, beauty shops, a different hall. He has different places on the West Side but we just didn’t have a restaurant where people could sit down and eat. He didn’t want any fast food. He does his own decorating and he’s a stickler for cleanliness. He does all the interior decorating for the restaurant so that’s the job he has with us, the stock room. He’s in charge of stock. He likes to keep his stockroom nice and clean and full.