Edna Stewart, Chicago's soul food queen, has died.
Mrs. Stewart, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last November, passed away this morning at Rush Oak Park Hospital, her brother, Sam Mitchell Jr., said. She had celebrated her 72nd birthday Sunday.
"She wanted to make her birthday," Mitchell Jr. said.
Mrs. Stewart's restaurant, Edna's Restaurant at 3175 W. Madison, has been churning out flaky biscuits, delectable fried chicken and other soul food delights since 1966.
The West Side eatery is a favorite among politicians and foodies alike. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. ate there. Mayor Daley eats there.
"I was working one night, filling in, and some people from New Zealand came in," Mitchell Jr. said. "We had people from Germany, London. And then all the presidents, and all the politicians, and Mayor Daley, all through the years."
Mrs. Stewart was born in Chicago and learned to cook, literally, at her mother's knee.
"She stayed in the kitchen, holding on to my mother's apron, trying to peek at what my mother was doing," Mitchell Jr. said.
Mrs. Stewart opened the restaurant with her father, Sam Mitchell Sr., and then-husband Johnny Stewart, her brother said. She cooked using some of her mother's recipes, and many of her own. She served all of the staples -- those famous biscuits, sweet potatoes, ham hocks and greens-- and more old-school fare, such as brains and eggs.
The restaurant started out inside a bowling alley and moved a few times, all within the same block, until it landed in its permanent home on West Madison.
"My mother fed so many people," her son, Melvin Mitchell, said. "And she was always one to help the next person. People coming home from the penitentiary, on work release, she hired them. And the civil rights stuff."
When King brought his activism to Chicago, renting a slum apartment to shed light on the miserable living conditions of many low-income blacks, he was a regular at Edna's.
When the late soul singer Tyrone Davis came to the restaurant -- he was battling prostate cancer at the time -- "My mom told him his money was counterfeit until he gained some weight," Melvin Mitchell said.
This year, Gov. Quinn declared Feb. 19 to be Edna Stewart Day.
In addition to her son and brother, Mrs. Stewart is survived by her daughter, Marguerite Banks, and sisters Alice McCommon and Judy Mitchell-Davis.