While local food businesses struggle to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic, Uncle Remus, perhaps Chicago’s most popular West Side chicken franchise, recently expanded its business after opening a fourth location at 339 N. Weber Rd. in Bolingbrook.
The family-owned business is currently run by West Side businesswoman Charmaine Rickette, the youngest of 12 children in the Rickette family. She said her Austin roots and her parents’ compassion are the backbone to the business.
“They just wanted to create jobs for the community,” said Rickette, who is a board member of the Austin African American Business Networking Association. “That’s what he [her father] set out to do and that’s what we have been doing for over 50 years.”
Rickette’s father, Gus Rickette, 94, continues to serve his customers at Rickette’s World Famous Chicken, Fish and BBQ, located at 8601 S. Stony Island Ave.
In 1963, Gus and Mary Rickette opened G&G Chicken, which was later named Royal Chicken before becoming Uncle Remus Saucy Fried Chicken.
The restaurant also has a location at 5611 W. Madison St. in Austin, along with two other locations in west suburban Broadview and on the South Side.
Rickette’s compassion to give back runs in the blood. Ever since Gus and Mary Rickette migrated from Mississippi to Chicago in 1963 and opened what was then called G&G Chicken, they found a purpose to give to the Austin neighborhood.
“I grew up in a modest way,” Charmaine said. “I grew up watching my parents give it all away, so I kind of inherited that.”
Fifty years later, Uncle Remus continues to serve its homemade chicken to customers with the help of Charmaine Rickette expanding the business from one joint to four.
“I want to emphasize that it may look easy from the outside, but it’s not easy,” Rickette said. “You have to be resilient. You have to have that physical strength, mental strength, especially with slinging chicken, you know. It’s just not easy, but it’s something I know has a purpose and the bigger purpose is to be philanthropic to my community.
“This business is going to allow that. I love the Austin community,” she said. “I love my people. I love our creativity. I love our ingenuity. I love our entrepreneurial visions and goals and I want to be able to continue to fuel and birth that within the community. That’s what really keeps me going because I need to make a whole lot of money to give it back.”
So far, Rickette said, Uncle Remus has created 20 jobs during the pandemic.
“It’s not 200. It’s not 200,000, but 20 is better than zero,” Rickette said. “I guess it is a nod to my parents for their resiliency and their legacies of doing the same during these times.”
Rickette waited seven months to kickstart the opening in Bolingbrook due to COVID-19 restrictions on local businesses. Rent bills were high, but Rickette pulled through. She leaned on the values her parents taught her as a child.
“Be resilient,” Rickette said. “I love to use the reference of boxing. You know there’s twelve rounds in a boxing match, but the great thing is, in each round you get knocked down, you get a 10-count before you’re knocked out. Life is a continual boxing match. So when you get knocked down, don’t stay down. You gotta stay down for the nine counts, make sure you get up for the 10th count. You get knocked down, but don’t get knocked out.”