An East St. Louis man has turned a community eyesore into a popular burger, fish and barbecue restaurant.
It's appropriately called Bounce Back Burgers.
"They have great food," said Fred Henderson, 44, a truck driver who lives in East St. Louis. "The service is excellent. They don't have an attitude like some places. They know how to treat their customers. It's a good, clean restaurant."
On a recent weeknight, Fred ordered barbecued snoots for the first time. He has tried almost everything else on the menu.
"After work, I call my wife and ask her if she feels like cooking," he said. "If she says, 'No,' I'm coming here to see Miss Sadie."
Fred was speaking of Sadie Burden, who manages the restaurant for owners Melvin and Denise Spears.
They opened in December at State and 40th streets.
"The Bounce Back Burger is our signature sandwich," said Sadie, 54, of Cahokia, a former nurse. "It's 10 ounces of weighed-up ground beef. It'll make you bounce back.
"We also do turkey burgers, and we go through a lot of turkey meat. People are eating healthier these days, especially younger people."
Fish plates and sandwiches include tilapia, buffalo, jack and catfish. The menu recently expanded with breakfast daily and barbecue Thursdays through Sundays.
"We marinate (ribs, snoots, rib tips and pork steaks) for a day and a half," said Melvin, 56, of East St. Louis. "It's Melvin's old recipe."
Bounce Back occupies a concrete-block building that sat vacant for more than 10 years after being damaged by fire and hit by a car. Homeless people were sleeping in it.
"This building was condemned," Melvin said. "I heard some people talking about it at City Hall. They said it was going to be torn down."
Melvin already owned rental property and a carpentry business, so he knew he could fix up the derelict building.
"I thought, 'I'm going to take it and show people that it can be something nice,'" he said.
Melvin made repairs and installed a new kitchen. He remodeled the small dining room to seat about 10 people at tables with black-and-white-checked tablecloths.
Outside, cousin Nathaniel Brookshire painted pictures of the hamburger-loving cartoon character Wimpie on fresh white walls.
Melvin covered the entrance with a bright-orange awning, asphalted the parking lot, lined the property with a wooden fence and set up picnic tables and wrought-iron tables with umbrellas.
"He brought (the building) back from nothing to something," said his brother-in-law Stephan Frelo, 51, of East St. Louis. "He wants to have a nice black-owned business in the community."
Beyond burgers, fish and barbecue, Bounce Back serves chicken wings, hot dogs, chili dogs, chili cheese dogs, polish sausage and a variety of sides.
Breakfast includes traditional bacon and eggs, sausage and hash browns, as well as chicken and waffles.
"It's famous in Georgia," Sadie said. "Gladys Knight made it famous. She has several restaurants that serve it."
Homemade desserts are provided by Melvin's 82-year-old aunt, Eliva Grimes. Her specialties are caramel, cream cheese and carrot cake.
Melvin's dream is to someday open another restaurant across the street, except this one would serve soul food.
"That's what I cook at home," he said.
At a glance
What: Bounce Back Burgers
Where: 4000 E. State St. in East St. Louis
Hours: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays
Seating: About 10 inside and 25 outside
Information: Call 618-482-8700
On the menu:
Chicken and Waffles -- $5.50 for four wings and a waffle
Bounce Back Cheeseburger -- $5.60 with fries
Pork Steak Sandwich -- $5
Foot-long Polish Sausage -- $4
Buffalo, Tilapia, Jack or Catfish Fillet Dinner -- $6.99 with two sides
Jalapeno Cheese Fries -- $2.50
Fried Okra -- $1.75