By Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist Published Feb 21, 2013 at 1:05 PM Photography: Eugene Kane

Apparently some friends who work downtown were surprised to discover one of their favorite soul food restaurants was still open.

"I thought Mr. Perkins' was closed!" said one friend who used to love having Southern style smothered chicken and collard greens whenever she visited the familiar location at 2001 W. Atkinson Ave.

As it turns out, she and others who are under that mistaken impression have been missing out on some wonderful food.

Owner Cherry Perkins said that some people might be confused by a new schedule at the restaurant that began about two years ago. These days Mr. Perkins' is only open Wednesdays through Saturdays and closes most days at 3:30 p.m.

Perkins said the new reduced hours were the result of an economic trend that saw many longtime regulars cutting back on their trips to the soul food place many in town consider one of the most enduring institutions for black Milwaukee.

(FYI: Nobody on the North side ever confuses "Mr. Perkins' Family Restaurant" with the national Perkins' Family Restaurant chain. They just call it "Perkins" and know the difference.)

For decades, the restaurant was a regular stop for professional athletes and entertainers visiting Milwaukee as well as a meeting place for local celebrities and professionals. A prominent "wall of fame" with pictures of some of the famous people who ate at the restaurant – everybody from Hollywood actors, best-selling rappers and professional athletes with ties to Milwaukee – was a well-known feature.

The banner is currently under renovation, Perkins told me.

The Milwaukee Bucks recently recognized the restaurant for years of service to the community and for being a place where many Bucks players over the years who were new to town could count on getting a meal cooked like the one they grew up eating.

Perkins points to the death of her husband, Will Perkins in 2010, as a reason for some reduced patronage. Will Perkins was a charismatic host who talked sports and politics with patrons.

Perkins is optimistic that any improvements in the economy this year can help restore Mr. Perkins' to its former stature. She's also adapting to changing times; for years, she has offered a vegetarian menu for customers along with using less salt and fat in other traditional soul food offering.

Still, make no mistake, you don't come to Mr. Perkins' for "health food." There's no denial this is soul food; hearty, rich and delicious, and best taken in moderation.

Perkins just hopes Milwaukeeans still appreciate what her family's business has meant to the city. 

If some people still think it's closed they should make a point to stop in again; they're in for a tasty surprise.

Eugene Kane Senior Writer and Columnist

Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.

Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.