On a late afternoon in June with overcast skies and smooth jazz in the air, Real Men Cook Charities, Inc.welcomed hundreds of people to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its trademark Father’s Day celebration.
Unseasonable chilly weather was not enough to discourage families from making their way to the celebration held at Hales Franciscan HS, where several volunteer chefs with tasty food samples, entertainers, and vendors like Oak Street Health, University of Chicago, among others were front-and-center to engage visitors.
Powering the day’s celebration — the food — were more than a dozen black men who volunteered to purchase, prepare, cook, and serve over a hundred free food samples to the public.
Among the chefs was first year volunteer Antonio Riley, co-founder of Riley’s Ribz, a company that sells barbecue sauce and seasonings. He was joined by his wife and fellow co-founder, Caryn, and several volunteers who were stationed under one of several tents vendors operated under.
Antonio said his decision to participate in the Father’s Day celebration stemmed from his first place finish in the Real Men Cook: Chicken & Chili Cookoff held in late January. For Father’s Day he cooked marinated barbecue chicken and jerk chicken. The Chicago native and father of four said in years past he attended the Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration and decided this year he would get involved.
“Just coming back to the community where I was born and raised and giving back, that’s what it is all about,” Antonio said. “It is Father’s Day and we want to show positive role models to our young men and this is a perfect place to do it.”
Real Men Cook’s Father’s Day is an instrumental part of the Father’s Day festivities for some attendees.
For example, Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration stalwarts like Carl West, 48, who was accompanied by his daughter, Karly, 17, described the event as “part of my life” having known Real Men Cook’s co-founders Yvette and Kofi Moyo for years.
“It’s on my radar to be here every single year, I don’t care where they move it to, I don’t care how small it may get, how large it may get, Real Men Cook is a part of my agenda on Father’s Day weekend,” West said. “They should be commended for putting together for 30 years a love fest, a food love fest, for the people of Chicago.”
The Matriarch Behind It All Shares Her Vision for the Future
Yvette Moyo, co-founder of Real Men Cook, launched the event with her former husband Kofi Moyo when she was just 35.
According to Moyo, at its peak the celebration generated a million dollars in revenue a year for several years and 13 cities hosted a Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration between 1999 and 2006.
“The power of the brand still lives all over the country. When I travel people are like when you gonna bring it back to New York because we still cook in our backyard,” Moyo said.
Moyo attributes the decline of the Father’s Day celebration to a combination of a decline of black people who knew and valued the event in positions of authority within corporate America, a nationwide economic downturn, etc. She said starting in 2001 the celebration experienced a sharp decline in revenue from a million dollars to an estimated $400,000 and $300,000 the following year.
“Next thing you know, it’s 2006, 2007 and it’s even getting worse. We did not decrease our staff, and we had already founded Real Men Charities, Inc. in 2003. And so, you know, we were advised to switch to the nonprofit as a way to keep doing our good work,” Moyo said.
Real Men Cook Charities, Inc. has executed the Father’s Day celebration for the past 15 years.
Last year, Moyo decided to purchase The Quarry Event Center, 2423 E.75th St., where she is president/CEO in an attempt to take the Real Men Cook Charities, Inc. and the Real Men Cook brand in a new direction. The Quarry is home to an art gallery, men’s healing circles, a shared kitchen, event space, and will soon serve as a space for a youth summer camp for residents within a six-block radius of the Quarry.
With a building to execute new activities and a Father’s Day event legacy that’s become ingrained within the black community Moyo wondered if the 30th anniversary of the Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration could be what she called “a great finale.” She said a final decision will be made in the coming weeks on how Real Men Cook will proceed moving forward.
“The Quarry represents the spirit of Real Men Cook,” Moyo said. “Our work is really every day. And that’s building healthy families and communities with African American males involved. And now that we have a location that we own, it makes it much easier to serve the community every day.”
If the 30th anniversary of the Real Men Cook Father’s Day celebration is indeed the last, Moyo wants to thank all of the new and long-standing supporters of the event and hopes to be invited to Real Men Cook style gatherings in the years to come.
“You know once you create something that can last this long, I think you can give it to the people. And the people will accept it and be very creative about how they want to do their own real men cook,” Moyo said.