Over the past eight years, Chicago’s soul food aficionados have become close friends with Luella Funches, the late great-grandmother of chef Darnell Reed and the inspiration behind his beloved restaurant Luella’s Southern Kitchen in Lincoln Square. But the city is about to see another side of the legendary matriarch’s culinary legacy — one that’s all about barbecue — thanks to chef Tyris Bell, Reed’s brother and fellow great-grandson of the woman they call “Baye.”
Bell Heir’s BBQ, Bell’s to-go restaurant featuring hickory-smoked rib tips and barbecue turkey legs smothered in baked macaroni and cheese, will open on Friday, February 3 at 704 W. 47th Street. He’s bringing a number of his great-grandmother’s recipes from Reed’s restaurant but isn’t restricting himself to tradition, promising some offbeat crowd-pleasers like pizza and nachos piled with juicy brisket. Pizza isn’t the focus of the restaurant, but a product of having the proper equipment thanks to the restaurant that proceeded Bell Heir in the space. The crust is a little thicker than tavern style, but thinner than pan pizza and cut into triangles.
Bell has worked as Luella’s general manager since its founding in 2015, but as a lifelong South Side resident and graduate of Dunbar Vocational High School in Bronzeville, he felt compelled to “get back to [his] roots” with opening a restaurant in the area where he grew up.
Roots are important to Bell, who attributes his love of barbecue to his parents Stephanie and Anthony Bell. “Growing up, when we had an event like 4th of July or Father’s Day, they were always barbecuing and having a good time,” he says. “You get that good feeling — the laughing, the joking, everyone is having fun.”
As Bell grew older, barbecue duties at family gatherings fell to him, planting the seed that would become Bell Heir’s BBQ. Now that he’s on the precipice of opening his own venture, he’s also turning his attention to the next generation: his son, Travon Bell, who will turn 18 this year. “He’s been at Luella’s with me since he was about 10, so my brother and I have been showing him how to cook,” Bell says. “There are so many pictures of him cooking at festivals, running food. He’s learning the industry how, and he’ll be in the restaurant as well.”
Most of the tastings for Bell Heir took place at Luella’s, and Darnell Reed says he got to taste his brother’s cooks. Reed jokes he had to skate the line between giving his younger brother feedback, and not letting him feel like big brother was taking over the project.
“The rib tips are my favorite,” Reed says, noting his brother’s passion for working on recipes and making sure things were smoked perfectly.
If the business thrives, there could be a location with seating in the future. South siders are accustomed to taking out their smoked meats from seat-free spots like Lem’s, but Bell says he was struck by the dine-in barbecue he saw while doing research in Houston and Memphis, Tennessee.
Bell Heir’s BBQ, 704 W. 47th Street, scheduled to open Friday, February 3.