“First I questioned their judgment; now I'm questioning their sanity," says Kendrick, now in his 80s. "This is my last hurrah. I missed my 15 minutes of fame, but this is my last hurrah.”
The new Mr. K’s is located in the former Chili’s on the corner of Stone Avenue and River Road. Kendrick and his daughter, Rhonda Kendrick, are opening the restaurant with local restaurant designer John Foster and Steve Sargent, the executive chef at Mays Counter, in which Foster is also a partner.
“For me, it’s more about him than the food,” says Foster, who has known the Kendricks all his life. “He had quite the impact on me the first time I met him, and it just so happens that he makes some gangster barbecue, too.”
Kendrick was one of the first black students to graduate from the UA’s School of Pharmacy, and will be honored at this year’s UA homecoming for his accomplishments. He worked as pharmacist for 40 years at Kino Community Hospital, opened an African-American museum and then opened a barbecue joint to keep the doors open.
He’s also been a vocal advocate for equal rights and access to education, and sort of an unelected official on the southside for many decades.
And his barbecue, well, let’s let him talk about that.
“I went to Kansas City three times; I went to Texas three times. I tried barbecue all over the place, and the only thing I ever did was add a little more spice to my beans,” says Kendrick, who swears by his tomato-based barbecue sauce. “This is Tucson barbecue. We live here; we’re not just passing through.”
What Kendrick and his crew are trying to do is make Tucson a barbecue destination, with them as the nexus. They say there's other good barbecue out there, but they're going to try to raise the bar just a bit.
Sargent — who has worked at a number of restaurants, including stints for Metro Restaurants and the now-defunct Terra Cotta — says the meat will come straight from the smoker, and that nothing will be reheated. He’s putting a bit of an upscale flair on some of the side dishes, too, although every recipe must get the go-ahead from Mr. K himself.
The restaurant will also pay homage to Kendrick’s accomplishments, with pictures from his life lining the walls. Kendrick himself will also hold court at the restaurant, as he’s always done at his south side joint.
On the menu: Brisket, ribs, pulled pork, turkey breast, hotlinks and rope sausages. Side dishes: Candied yams, okra, macaroni-and-cheese, kettle chips, collard greens and many more. There will also be a nice selection of Southern desserts and a full bar. Prices are in the $5 to $12 range.
There will also be live entertainment, and Foster says he’s bringing in a piano from the 1800s for live gospel concerts.
The original Mr. K’s on South Park Avenue will stay open, and they’re talking about doing some improvements to the property.
The new restaurant is expected to open in August.