A Look at the Soulful History of Mr. Perkins Family Restaurant

For decades, Mr. Perkins has brought culinary and cultural comfort through staples of Southern food.


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Cherry Welch-Perkins and her son, Tracy Welch; Photo by Glenda Mitchell

The power of comfort food and love for the community have been the keys to the longevity of Milwaukee institution Mr. Perkins Family Restaurant.

It started 52 years ago as the dream of Willie Perkins Sr., a Tennessee native with a third-grade education but restaurant experience, and his wife, Hilda, who loved to cook.

“It’s not about how many customers come, it’s about how many come back,” says current owner Cherry Welch-Perkins, recalling the mantra of the restaurant’s founder and namesake. Mr. Perkins (2001 W. Atkinson Ave.) has been inconspicuously nestled in the Rufus King neighborhood since its 1969 inception, building a five-decade legacy on customer service, support of the community, a passion for people and traditional Southern recipes.

When it comes to nourishing the “physical soul,” comfort food and soul food are one in the same for 66-year-old Mississippi native Welch-Perkins, who originally took over the business with her late husband, Willie Perkins Jr. “Comfort food is something that’s culturally ingrained in you, so for me it would be Southern cooking: catfish fillet, collard greens, black-eyed peas, boiled okra.”

Photo by Glenda Mitchell

 

 

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Mr. Perkins serves up a menu of mouth-watering favorites like catfish, pork chops, fried chicken wings and oxtail. And like many Southern-style restaurants, the scrumptious sides steal the show, the most popular being mac and cheese, greens, candied yams and dressing (more commonly known as stuffing here in the North).

Chitterlings, a must-have for some and acquired taste for others, have become so popular at the restaurant that suppliers have been unable to keep them available in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Photo by Glenda Mitchell

Since the pandemic began, Mr. Perkins has reduced hours and restricted service to takeout only; these days, the warm and welcoming regulars can only meet while picking up their orders. Staff has shrunk by half to just two – Welch-Perkins and her son, Tracy Welch.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Welch-Perkins remains hopeful that Mr. Perkins carries on. She’s been encouraging her son to continue the legacy. Through it all, she embodies the motto Mr. Perkins was founded on. “I know I was saved to serve,” she says. “I tell people I’m a servant, unapologetically.”


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s December issue.

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