Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Northside series.
For years the small patch of land on the northwest corner of North and Burdick Streets on Kalamazoo’s North Side was a vacant neighborhood cut-through.
People walked across the property to and from friends’ homes, to Lincoln International Studies School, and to other nearby places. About seven years ago, it was a patch of crabgrass strewn with trash and tossed bottles, and highlighted by a few scrubby trees.
But it became a tiny land of opportunity for Ricky Thrash and his family.
About six years ago, he and his wife Yvonne purchased the former doctor’s office building next door at 118 W. North St. and successfully converted it into Ennovy’s Beauty Bar
, a beauty and barbershop. About a year later, they purchased the vacant corner lot between that business and Burdick Street. At 703 N. Burdick St., it is now the home of Bone Yard Café Bar-B-Que & Specialty Dogs, a seller of barbecue spare ribs, rib tips, French fries, specialty hot dogs, and side dishes. The name plays on the rib bones it sells and the yard in which the new business is located.
After a few years of planning, Ricky and Yvonne Thrash were able to open their food truck barbeque place, Bone Yard Café, in August.
“My son went to culinary school and this is his passion,” says Thrash of his son Tyron Pritchett Sr.
Pritchett, 40, began working in the culinary arts while attending Loy Norrix High School and continued to cook and smoke meats while working for his uncle, local restaurant owner Paul “Big Moe” Pritchett, and while living in Texas.
“We tweak everything,” Thrash says of traditional barbecue dishes. “When we barbecue, it’s a combination of barbecue and smokehouse.”
But the business is also a dream come true for Thrash, a former City of Kalamazoo employee who, at age 66, has been cooking for more than 45 years.
“When we bought the lot, I had envisioned the Bone Yard,” he says. But he also says, “We wanted to buy the lot to make sure something good happened (here). And it was such a blighted park. It was such an eyesore.”
It had three ugly trees and, at one point, the family considered using the area to expand the parking lot of the beauty shop. “But that was not going to generate any income,” Thrash says. “And I wanted something that could probably generate some income and that would look nice at the same time.”
He says he wanted to build a building. But, with the risky nature of the food business in mind, he and his wife decided to first try a food trailer. They bought a small, stainless-steel, diner-style food trailer about three years ago and had plans to start using it on the property. They hoped to open in early 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic struck and they had to wait.
Although social-distancing restrictions eased this past spring, their opening was delayed again however as they managed an illness and death in the family. Now, Thrash says he’s excited. The business opened in late August.
“I love it,” says Mattie Jordan-Woods, executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development. “I can actually walk there from my job. It’s so welcoming.”
She says the business is attracting people of all backgrounds and races and is accommodating to all.
“It was city-owned property,” Jordan-Woods says. But she and other area residents say it had been 15 to 20 years since the property was used. A building that was demolished there was home to a gasoline station in the 1950s and later the location of a shoe repair shop.
Thrash says his family didn’t want to simply set up a grill outside in the grass and make a few bucks. They had electrical, water, and Internet service installed at the site, and beautified it with decorative topiaries.
“We wanted something that would really appeal to people of all races and ages and somewhere people would feel really comfortable about coming and getting food, knowing it’s clean and safe,” he says.
He and his son cook on a large grill just behind the food trailer. His wife and daughter (Rateya Davis) “do everything inside – all the side dishes and taking care of all the customers,” he says.
In the meantime, their beauty salon, Ennovy’s Beauty Bar, has been doing well, Yvonne Thrash says.
“It’s a full-service salon,” she says. “We have barbers. We have stylists, waxing, facials, the whole nine.”
The name of the business is “Yvonne,” spelled backward. She is a cosmetologist and licensed manicurist. Ricky, who is handy with tools and renovation work, is also a licensed manicurist. Not counting them and other family members, the salon employs five people.
Ricky Thrash is a former City of Kalamazoo employee who is using years of cooking skills to operate BoneYard Cafe with his wife, son and daughter.
“If the trailer does well, then perhaps we can build a building,” Ricky Thrash says. “If it goes well, maybe we can leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren.”
He and his wife are entrepreneurs who formerly ran a janitorial service. Three weeks into their new venture, he says, “Thus far, it has been received very well.” The business, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, has sold out of food on two occasions. “I have to remind people we’re a food trailer and we can only house so much,” he says with a laugh.
The yard has room to seat 16 people.
The café’s big sellers are its spare ribs and rib tips. “But the Chi Dogs are a big hit too,” Thrash says. “And the Bone Yard Dog is a big hit.”
The Chi Dog is a Chicago-style hot dog served on a bun with relish, pickles and peppers. The Bone Yard Dog is a specialty corn dog on a stick.
“The batter is so good that it’s really bringing people in,” Thrash says. “You would think that somebody would order that for their kid. … But I’ve seen grown men order three and sit out there and eat them off the stick.”
He says he and his family are trying to decide if they will remain open through the winter months, and what their hours will be if so.
Of Bone Yard Café's success, Jordan-Woods says, “It was vacant land and they (the Thrashes) wanted to do something other than see it that way. … They wanted to do something else so they did a food thing and it’s really nice.”
While the North Side has nearly 200 land parcels that the Kalamazoo County Land Bank has acquired and is working to put back into use, the Bone Yard Cafe site is not one of them says its Executive Director Kelly Clarke. But she says, “It is really wonderful to see that.” It is among the positive things happening in the community and on the North Side. She says she had lunch at the new business last week.
“I’m extremely excited,” Thrash says, “And honestly, more than being able to generate income, I’m excited about doing something for the community, the North Side.
Knowing what this lot looked like a few years ago and knowing what it looks like now, and the response the community has given my family, that’s the biggest reward.”