MATTOON -- The longtime owners, Larry and Barb Lawson, of Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken in Mattoon have sold their restaurant to their grandson, Drew Banks.
Banks, who became the new owner earlier this summer, has worked at Lee's Famous Recipe for more than a decade, including as a manager in recent years. Banks said he has kept the restaurant's regular operating hours, full menu and catering service while making a few changes, such as adding macaroni and cheese as a side dish.
The Lawsons have continued to help with running the restaurant, 800 Charleston Ave. Barb Lawson said she and two other business partners opened this restaurant in August 1973 as part of the Lee's Famous Recipe chain. She married Larry Lawson in November 1973 and they moved from Chicago to Mattoon to operate the restaurant in May 1974. Barb Lawson said she and her husband had been the sole owners since 1982.
Barb Lawson said selling Lee's Famous Recipe to their grandson has provided an opportunity for them to keep the restaurant in the family and in the community as her husband retires and she focuses on her work as a real estate agent.
"Mattoon has been good to us, a really friendly community," Larry Lawson said. Both he and his wife said many of their customers have become regulars over the years who they know by name and sometimes by their favorite menu items.
Barb Lawson said they have always tried to return the favor for this support by helping sponsor youth and adult sports teams, special events and more, and by using their catering to provide community service. The Lawsons also have served up meals for visiting sports teams at Eastern Illinois University and for many other large groups.
"We have tried to be an asset to the community," Barb Lawson said.
The Lawsons said their three children and other family, including Banks, have worked at Lee's Famous Recipe at various times. Banks said he has gotten to know the customers too and has learned a lot from his grandparents about operating the restaurant. Banks said he looks forward to continuing the family business.
"It's something that I know. I know the community and I know the people of Mattoon," Banks said.
Regarding other changes at the restaurant, Banks said he has added a discount for active duty military personnel and veterans. Banks said he also has created a Mattoon Lee's Famous Recipe page on Facebook.
Lee's Famous Recipe page is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but can prepare food earlier in the day to meet large orders. More information is available by calling the restaurant at 217-235-3731.