Family owned Black business serving the community for more than 50 years
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- On Friday ABC57’s Black History Month coverage highlighted a local family owned Black business that’s been serving what some say is the best barbeque in Michiana for more than five decades.
Frankie’s BBQ located at 1621 W Washington St has built a legacy in South Bend, not only has it been serving the community for more than 50 years, but the family owned restaurant is one of the oldest Black businesses in South Bend working to inspire generations from here on.
“My mom and dad started this in 1968 and we were in a smaller building, on the corner here and they got this one for us and we’ve been striving here ever since,” said Frankie’s BBQ owner Sean Pierre Trotter.
The family owned business got its start back in 1968, right in the heart of the once thriving Black business district on the city’s west side.
It all started at a time when the streets were lined with a black owned pharmacy, grocery stores, barbershops, churches and restaurants.
“We’re still here, we’re a part of that,” said Trotter. “We had stores down here, lot of stores, pharmacies, meat markets, it was incredible. As a kid I definitely remember that, train track coming through here, we had a burger place across the street, it was definitely so, it was just flowing with black people in this area.”
Frankie’s has been passed down from generation to generation and has been run by Sean Pierre Trotter for the last thirty years, the son of the original owners James Charles Trotter Sr. and Frankie Fellows, who started this beloved business from scratch.
“Oh, it’s definitely family, I’m 55 now so I’ve been here probably since I was four or five, went away to college, came back,” added Trotter.
The restaurant is currently one of the only Black businesses left standing in the area and one of the oldest Black owned establishments still serving the community in South Bend.
“It’s definitely a fabric of the community, I mean I’m 30 plus so I got somewhat of an idea of who I’m going to pass it along to so we can keep it going,” Trotter explained. “This is like the last of it and you know we’re striving with all these meetings that we’re having every day, they know what we want and the city knows what we want so it’s a part of everybody not just black people, everybody.”
Frankie’s is known for its food, but for Trotter and his family, the business means much more than making barbeque.
“Just from the customer base, we watched them grow up, as kids to adulthood now, so it’s been that way for 50 something years now,” he said.
“There is no other BBQ that can touch it. It’s always consistent. I mean every now and then we’re going to have a bad day, but even their bad is good, I just love them,” added long-time customer Robin Ford, who’s been coming to Frankie’s for more than 30 years.
Customers like Ford have come from near and far, out of the county and even sometimes out of the state just to get a taste from the restaurant they fell in love with growing up.
“I was here when the original mom and pop was here and I moved here from St. Louis, moved to Michigan City from St. Louis and when I would come to Michigan City from St. Louis I would always have them to bring me to Frankie’s so I’m one of the way back Frankie’s lovers,” added Ford.
Trotter also hopes the restaurant can give back to the community that’s already given so much to him and his family.
“I have a scholarship that’s starting and it’s called earn while you learn and that’s going to give deserving students, so a way that they can come and learn the business and just give back once they get it,” explained Trotter.
Trotter said he’s not only striving to give back but he’s also working to continue the family legacy along with inspiring others to break the cycle, pass down traditions, and build generational wealth in the black community.
“Just pass it along from generations and generations. It gives the black community hope. We are the oldest black business here in South Bend and we’ve been striving ever since, through all the obstacles, so, I’m excited for the new movement as far as this is concerned you know I’ve been working very hard for it gives me shivers and I shake with the new exciting things that’s going to happen to this area and Frankie’s is included in that.”
Trotter said once he’s ready to retire he plans on passing the business down to one of his nieces or nephews.
In the meantime, he said they are working to expand the restaurant to add outdoor fire pits and an open eatery to go along with some of the upcoming revitalization set to come to the entire neighborhood.
Sean also added he hopes to have the scholarship established in the coming weeks so stay with ABC57 news for more details.