Newark didn’t forget the restaurant owner’s generosity when COVID hit. Now he’s giving back.
Walter “Willie” Green handed out free food from his new barbecue restaurant last summer as a last hurray before thinking his business would shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was going to lose my restaurant, but I knew I had to give back to the community,” said Green, owner of Uncle Willie’s Wings at 945 Frelinghuysen Ave. in Newark.
Turns out that latest attempt to give back wasn’t the end for Uncle Willie’s Wings, who opened weeks before the pandemic hit New Jersey.
People have noticed Green’s generosity. And after a wave of support, his business is starting to grow again.
“If it’s the last thing we do, we’ll come out beautiful,” said Kere Thomas, one of the co-owners of Uncle Willie’s Wings. “But it really was a spark.”
Newark Working Kitchens, a food delivery program that started around April of last year, has partnered with the restaurant. Audible, which moved its headquarters to Newark in 2007, launched the program last year and began paying restaurants for meals which are then delivered to those in need of food.
The program received even more funding, including $ 2 million from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, a $ 500,000 grant from the City of Newark, and donations from PSE & G and the New Jersey Devils.
The program celebrated 1 million meals delivered earlier this month.
Newark’s working kitchens are what kept Uncle Willie’s wings afloat after Green fell with the coronavirus and the restaurant closed for three months. He prepared between 1,000 and 1,500 meals per week for the program.
He also bought a used van with over 130,000 miles to make food deliveries. “The Today Show” in December noticed his work and gave him a brand new truck.
The program is also what allowed him to give back to Newark residents in an even bigger way this Saturday, a year after he thought his business would end. Instead of donating food in his display case, he got a bigger place to host an even bigger barbecue.
Green worked with the city to get permits to put everything in the parking lot near the Training Recreation Education Center on Ludlow Street. He had a bouncy castle, games, face painting, music, and health showings in addition to free food.
South Ward Councilor John Sharpe James celebrated the second annual barbecue by presenting Green with a city resolution at the party, honoring him for using his own resources to feed residents last year. .
“We need to show our support for people who have a heart and love for the community,” said James.
Uncle Willie’s Wings was created by Green’s love of cooking after leaving the military and moving from Chicago to Newark. But it was also about creating financial independence while giving back to Newark.
“Everything we do, we want to focus on the community,” said Derrick Wright, who owned Green before becoming part-owner of Uncle Willie’s Wings. “We want to show, ‘Hey, here’s a bunch of entrepreneurs who want to give back to the community. “
This is the goal, even as the restaurant continues to grow and expand.
The Newark Community Health Center on Ludlow Street was on hand Saturday to do medical screenings and let people know where they can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Primerica, an investment firm, was also on hand to promote financial literacy.
Saturday was the first time Uncle Willie’s Wings presented his new used food truck. It was so new that it still had the words “Latin-Asia on the go” written on the side of the previous owners.
The truck will soon help bring the flavor of Chicago to the restaurant’s chicken and waffles, fried catfish fillets, and macaroni and cheese to other parts of town.
“I’m going to do this every year,” Green said between setting up sanitation stations and starting the grill in his food truck.
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Rebecca Panico can be reached at [email protected].