Even recent arrivals to the Mile High City know the name Bruce Randolph; there's a two-and-a-half-mile stretch of road named after him between Downing and Dahlia streets, as well as the Bruce Randolph School in the Clayton neighborhood. And then there's the Daddy Bruce Randolph Legacy Foundation, which carries on the departed restaurant owner's philanthropic mission.
Now, thanks to Ronald Wooding of the People's Production Company, more people will know about "Daddy" Bruce Randolph, the barbecue chef, philanthropist and "unofficial mayor of Denver." Wooding's long-planned documentary about Randolph, Keep a Light in Your Window, debuts on Rocky Mountain PBS at 8 p.m. on Thursday, November 19.
Wooding moved to Denver in 1995 to attend the Iliff School of Theology, so he never met Randolph, who passed away in 1994. But shortly after he arrived here, Wooding ended up living in a house attached to Daddy Bruce's restaurant, at Gilpin Street and what was then East 34th Avenue. Every Thanksgiving, he would see tents set up in the street outside the nearby Epworth United Methodist Church. He soon learned about the free turkey dinners that served thousands of people every year, and he eventually became involved in the Bruce Randolph Legacy Foundation, which helps carry on the tradition.
Randolph Sr. was born in Arkansas in 1900 and opened his first restaurant when he was 63, after moving to Denver. His secret barbecue sauce came from his grandmother, who was born into slavery, according to Wooding. Keep a Light in Your Window tells the full story of Randolph's rise as one of Denver's prominent restaurant owners, friend to several mayors and a favorite of late Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen (who called Randolph his team's twelfth man). "It was his personality that allowed him to connect with so many people," Wooding explains. "It was just second nature to him to help people. We need more people like that."
This year, Epworth United Methodist plans to distribute more than 10,000 Thanksgiving food boxes that will serve eight people each (they'll be delivered this year because of the pandemic). Donations are being accepted at epworthfoundation.org.
There aren't many people left in Denver who remember Daddy Bruce's famous pork ribs, but thanks to Wooding, you can get a taste of Denver restaurant history.