Services for Chicago’s barbeque king, Leon Finney Sr., have been finalized. Finney, founder of Leon’s Bar-B-Q, died April 4 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 92. Born the son of an entrepreneur, Finney came to Chicago from Mississippi in 193
But a head injury he sustained while working at a manufacturing plant cut that dream short, his son, the Rev. Leon Finney Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, said. A few years after arriving in the city, and with the help of his father T.J. Huddleston, owner of many funeral homes in Mississippi, Finney embarked on his own road as a business owner.
His aunt, Bertha Montgomery Brody, worked for a man who ran a barbeque shop on Garfield Boulevard with a bookie joint in the basement, Finney Jr. said of his father. When police raided the joint, and shut it down, the owner offered to sell the barbeque enterprise for $700.
Finney bought it with money from his father. He opened up Leon’s Bar-B-Q on Garfield Boulevard in 1941, and a few years later, in the same vicinity, added two more restaurants. But, the post-war economy wreaked havoc on Black business owners and meat prices were too high for Finney to keep the company afloat.
He suspended the restaurants’ operations for about 10 years, then reopened in a different location, near 83rd and Cottage Grove Avenue, said Finney Jr., who is also a community activist and founder of The Woodlawn Organization.
Leon’s now boasts four South Side family-owned-and-operated locations since it reopened, and two locations run by former employees. A restaurant was also opened in Atlanta, Leon’s of Chicago, by Finney’s late grandson.
The family opened the Atlanta barbeque joint in order to give Chicagoans there, and other barbeque lovers, a taste of Chicago during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The restaurant ceased operations after the grandson was killed.
The restaurant chain consistently received rave reviews from Chicago food critics. Finney remained at the helm of the empire until his health began to fail six years ago. He is survived by six children, nine grandchildren and a host of other relatives.
Finney was widowed twice. Visitation will be held Thursday 4 p.m.-8:30 p.m. at Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, 4100 S. King Dr. The next day, funeral services will begin in the church at 11 a.m. Finney will be buried in Oak Woods Cemetery.
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