Tyrone Luckett has worked at Ashley’s Que, 124 W. National Ave., for just over a year. For the first time since he was in the Navy, it’s the only job he has.
"I usually have two or three jobs," says Luckett. "I have just this one now, but I work like 900 days a week."
Recently, OnMilwaukee.com stopped into Ashley’s and chatted with Luckett about soul food, karaoke, kids, music, living in Milwaukee and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: This is your family’s business, right?
Tyrone Luckett: Yes, my brother Darnell (Ashley), owns the place. His father opened the first one in the '60s. I remember being in it when I was little. They sold it but then didn’t like how it was being run so they bought it back.
Darnell’s father died in 2005, right after I got out of the Navy. One day, Darnell came into IHOP, where I was working and offered me a job. For a while I did both, but after I while, it didn’t make sense to keep the IHOP job – wake up at 5 a.m. to make change when I could come here at 5 p.m. and make twice as much.
OMC: Did you grow up in Milwaukee? Where did you go to school?
TL: Born and bred. I graduated from Hartford Avenue School and Custer High School. I grew up all over the North Side, still live there today: 27th and Capitol.
OMC: How did you get into the service industry?
TL: When I got back from the Navy, I went door-to-door for a while and a co-worker’s father opened the IHOP in Midtown, and then I started working there. It closed down for a minute, but then it reopened. I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years. Usually two or three at a time. I’m pretty much always working.
OMC: Are you good at making pancakes?
TL: I love pancakes and I’m a fantastic cook, but I was a server at IHOP.
OMC: How long were you in the Navy?
TL: Two years, 10 months and 28 days. I loved it. I was stationed in San Diego. I went to Singapore, Guam, Thailand – I’ve seen some of the world, places I never thought I’d get to. I caught the bug now; there are so many places I want to travel, but I don't have the time. The thing is, if you're working you have the money, but not the time, and if you’re not working, you have the time but don't have the money. Caught between life and living.
OMC: What’s the best item on Ashley’s menu?
TL: My favorite is the tips. Some don't like ‘em because they’re a little fattier. The brisket here is great. The Prince Sandwich is really good and we started doing chicken and waffles on this side of town before anyone else.
It’s hard to find good soul food on the South Side. One of my friends I met here said to me, "I don’t have to cross the viaduct to get good greens? I'm never leaving this place!"
OMC: Did you grow up eating soul food?
TL: Do you see me? I’m 5 feet, 9 inches and 260 (pounds) – of course I did.
OMC: So are these family recipes?
TL: They are family recipes with minor tweakings. Palates evolve, recipes change a little.
OMC: What makes good soul food?
OMC: What do you like to cook?
TL: I love Italian food and I love making it. And soul food. I really like to make it. You have to take your time with soul food and it forces you to slow down, really think about it.
OMC: What soul food items are your favorite to make?
TL: Collard greens, of course, pinto beans with rice, smothered pork chops, red beans and rice – some don't consider it soul food because it’s a New Orleans thing but it is – baked mac and cheese.
OMC: Did you make a lot of food on Thanksgiving?
TL: I did. Baked mac and cheese, collard greens with smoked turkey necks – of course a turkey – and fried corn on the cob.
OMC: How are the wings here?
TL: Fantastic. Darnell won’t tell anyone what’s in the batter – only he makes it. We have 29-cent wings on Mondays, during football games. We’re normally closed on Mondays, only open during football season.
OMC: What do you like about working here?
TL: The people – who I work with and the ones who come in here. I have fantastic customers. A group of guys took me to my first Packers game, the Eagles game, for my birthday. I only remember half of the game, but they told me I had a good time and I believe them.
OMC: Do you bartend sometimes?
TL: I just started doing some bartending. I’m always learning, asking questions, and we needed a bartender here so I stepped in and have picked it up pretty quickly.
OMC: Do you hope to open your own business some day?
TL: I do, but I’m also realizing how much work goes into owning a business. I always knew it was a lot of work, but I’m truly realizing how much work it really is, especially when it’s your own business and you don’t have corporate backing like you do with a chain. I think it would be really rewarding, though.
OMC: What do you do when you’re not working?
TL: I’m sorry, what language is that? What does that mean? Where can I find this "not working?"
Seriously, though, I love music. I try to catch a concert here and there. I love all kinds of music. The first CD I bought – it wasn’t even a CD, it was a tape – was "Dookie" by Green Day. I grew up on Green Day, Bush, Silverchair, Stone Temple Pilots. I also really love hip-hop and rap.
OMC: What do you think of Milwaukee’s hip-hop scene? Any good?
TL: It could be, but unfortunately those I believe deserve the shine aren’t getting it.
OMC: What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
TL: The main thing is making sure my kids are taken care of. I have two girls, 9 and 6, and a boy, 1 month old. Growing up, I didn’t want kids at all. Not because I don’t like kids – I love kids – but because of the state of the world. It’s like the 2Pac line, "scared to drop a seed, hopin’ I ain't cursed my babies." I’m so scared of the peers they are going to have, but as long as I do what I need to do, I think they’ll be OK.
OMC: What do you think about Milwaukee in general?
TL: I love this place. There are things I don’t love about it, but in general, I love it. Everything you want is here. Summerfest is the largest music festival in the country. Any kind of food you want is here.
I learned a lot about the city going door to door. I learned to love the South Side of the city through that job, from meandering around.
OMC: What did you do "door to door?"
TL: I have on my resume that I did promotional advertising for local businesses for outside sales which means I sold door-to-door coupons.
OMC: Has anyone ever told you that you should be on radio?
TL: Many times. It’s alright. Now you’re making me blush.
OMC: Do you sing?
TL: Not very well. If you were here last night for karaoke you would have that. I did Tom Petty’s "You Don’t Know How it Feels." Great song.
OMC: There’s karaoke here?
TL: Yes, every Wednesday from 9:30 to 1. On Fridays, we have live bands. Most Fridays we have Evan Christian.
OMC: What makes a good server?
TL: A good work ethic. Attention to detail. The ability to anticipate the needs of the guests. I tell people when training them to think about what they like when they go out. How do you want to be treated?
I’ve been told there are three types of customers: those who want you to be fast, those who want you to be friendly and those who just want you to be accurate. But if you can be all three, you’re in there.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.