By Mike Kinney
Community members turned out Friday to celebrate milestones for two beloved Richmond staples: Chef Charles Evans, who has turned 75 years old, and his restaurant CJ’s BBQ & Fish, which is celebrating its 22nd anniversary in business.
About 200 people attended a gala banquet and party hosted by Felise Hubbard at the Moose Lodge in El Sobrante. Earlier in the day, Congressmember Mark DeSaulnier and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia honored Evans with Certificates of Achievement. In addition, former Richmond PAL director Larry Lewis, as well as Wibert McAllister of the Oakland Black Cowboys Association, also presented Evans with certificates honoring his community service.
“As someone who owned and operated a restaurant for over 25 years, I understand how hard it is but also the extraordinary benefit eateries like his give to our community as a place to gather, relax, and enjoy one another’s company,” said Desaulnier, who years ago owned TR’s Bar & Grill in Concord.
Added Gioia, “Charles has been a community institution for decades and his CJ Barbecue is well-loved and respected in West County. We appreciate his service to our greater Richmond community.”
Richmond Councilmember Nat Bates, who has been friends with Evans for 60 years, views Evans as an important figure in Richmond history, with a family that has deep roots spanning decades.
CJ’s BBQ & Fish opened in 1997, with Charles’ brother, Luther Evans, and longtime employee Ken “Sugar Bear” Rawls assisting in the launch. Evans said it was his dream to have a Richmond store. CJ’s success in part can be attributed to the restaurant’s distinctive seasonings and sauces. Evans’ mother, 102-year-old Flora, supplied him with some of the secret ingredients. “Some of it is family recipe and some is my recipe,” he said. At the end of every busy day, Evans still makes time to sit and eat with his mother.
Evans’ restaurant is well known for its food but also for its presence at community gatherings. The restaurant fed first responders at Kaiser Richmond during the pandemic, along with residents of a local housing complex enduring the trauma of violence.
“This celebration is a tribute to Charles for having a successful business in Richmond and being of service to the people of Richmond,” said Antoine Cloird, a friend and community advocate.
Michelle Milam, the City of Richmond Crime Prevention Manager, called CJ’s a “Richmond icon.”
“Charles Evans carries the torch of the many African-American owned- businesses of the past and present here in Richmond,” she said.
Taken aback by the praise, Evans said he felt blessed to be in good health and in a loving community. And he said he doesn’t plan to stop serving the community any time soon.
“I’m glad I made it,” Evans said. “I was so pleased to see all of my family members, all of my grandkids, employees, friends and so many people from the community could come to celebrate. Like James Brown said in his song: ‘I feel good.'”