(A few weeks before COVID-19 drastically changed our lives, we caught up with Bob Hemphill, owner of Chkn-N-Mo and well-respected member of our community.)
Downtown Spokane staple back open for business.
You can smell the savory barbeque and deep-fried catfish well before you step inside Chkn-N-Mo, in downtown Spokane. The mouthwatering aroma leads you right to the counter, where the owner, Bob Hemphill, takes your order with a charming southern accent and a big smile. Bob’s been serving his famous chicken, ribs, catfish sandwiches, and coleslaw in Spokane for nearly 30 years. It’s more than just southern-style barbeque. This is soul food. With every order, Bob serves up a side of conversation, positivity, and inspiration—free of charge.
“Customers fill me with wisdom and knowledge and I do the same,” said Bob.
Bob, a Texas native, moved to Spokane in 1976. He landed his first job in the area, working as a salesman at Montgomery Ward. Then, he started a taxi cab company—a position allowing him to connect with people from all over.
“I was just friendly. I would always ask lots of questions to the people I would drive around. And let them know I’m here for you,” said Bob.
After selling his taxi business, Bob started a construction company. However, a back injury forced him to reconsider what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. At the time, southern-style food was hard to find in Spokane. So, Bob started his restaurant on a shoe-string budget, prayer, and positive thinking.
“I didn’t know anything about cooking, never cooked before. People were hungry for southern food. This was something I could fill that need. Everything was trial and error. No expertise, no wisdom. I made a lot of mistakes, but through that, I became wiser and made me a better person,” said Bob.
At first, Bob only served fried chicken, spare ribs, baked beans, and potatoes. Over the years, the menu has expanded, and so has his following. Chkn-N-Mo is now a Spokane landmark. Bob credits his success to his faith and never giving up on his dreams. He hopes to one day have ten more restaurant locations.
“Everything is based on the way you think. If you want to be successful, you can be a success. God has given us this power to imagine things and dream. If we don’t give up on that desire, it will come true,” said Bob.
At 77 years old, Bob still puts in a full workweek. He does it all, from cleaning the fryers to taking orders and battering catfish. Out of all his jobs, serving customers is his greatest honor.
“It’s a social thing as well as a prosperous thing. I don’t get tired. I love what I’m doing. Life is great,” said Bob.
When COVID spread, Bob was forced to close his restaurant for two weeks and offer only take-out and delivery. With the doors now open, his message of positivity is important now more than ever. He finds inspiration in the words of ‘We Shall Overcome’—the anthem of the civil rights movement.
“We will overcome. It’s the way you think about things. The whole thing about life, if you desire something, it will show up. Once you know you are God’s creation, you don’t have to worry about anything,” said Bob.
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