Vicki’s Bar-B-Q | In 1956, Fairfield and Vicki Butler opened their first restaurant, a full-service diner called Loretta’s, near the intersection of 8 Mile and Wyoming. Mr. Butler was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the restaurant at that time; he was a juke box and television repairman. It was too much for Vicki to handle on her own, so after about a year, the Butlers decided to close Loretta’s.
The Butlers reopened Loretta’s at the corner of West Warren and 24th street with renewed vigor and hope in 1958. At this point, Fairfield had already committed himself fully to the restaurant, which he and his wife ran as a team. The Butler kids helped out with the business this time around, too. Though Loretta’s was well-received, the Butlers yearned to branch out. Later that year, the pair launched “Vicki’s Shrimp Hut” in a building on West Warren, not far from West Grand Boulevard, serving fried shrimp and grilled chicken made with a secret recipe.
Dot and Ettas Shrimp Shack, a rival shrimp establishment, surprisingly set up shop in the same building as Vicki’s. When Dot and Etta’s relocated to a new location across the street and Vicki’s relocated to a new position along the same block, the two establishments coexisted for a while. The Butlers opened Vicki’s Bar-B-Q in 1964, right next door to their original restaurant and offering essentially identical food with the addition of pork spareribs.
Vicki’s immediately became a go-to in its own right as word spread about the restaurant’s delicious charcoal grilled ribs and the fact that it served more than just shrimp and chicken. The number of customers grew gradually, but something was clearly lacking. At some point, a patron of Vicki’s came in and demanded to meet with the proprietors. The customer raved about Vicki’s charcoal-grilled ribs but panned the sauce, which Fairfield relayed to Vicki. She volunteered to show the Butlers how her family made their barbecue sauce, and they accepted. Vicki’s famous sweet tomato sauce, made with vinegar, was produced after some fine-tuning.
In 1965, Vicki’s Bar-B-Q Sauce was so well-liked that it was bottled and distributed to area A&P supermarkets. Vicki’s sold its own brand of barbecue sauce, vinegar, tomato paste, and hot sauce between 1965 and 1968. In light of the volatile social atmosphere in Detroit in 1968, including the ensuing riots and increasing racial tension, The Butlers made the tough decision to discontinue their retail operations in favor of concentrating on their restaurant.
The Butler family relocated to Guadalajara, Mexico in 1973 for a fresh start and to escape the country’s social problems at the time. From 1973 through 1977, their eldest son, Dennis, took the helm of the company. From 1977 to 1985, the Butlers were the managers once again. In 1985, Dennis took over as the sole proprietor after the senior Butlers had retired. Until the end of the year 2020, Dennis ran Vicki’s Bar-B-Q.
Vicki’s has had many famous patrons and supporters throughout the years. In 2013, Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown” visited Vicki’s. As Detroit’s revival gained national attention, the original filming was rebroadcast on a “Parts Unknown Revisited” episode but was deleted from the original broadcast.
KEM, a local recording artist, counts among Vicki’s many fans the city’s various political and financial elite. Aretha Franklin, Tommy Hearns, Emanuel Steward, and Johnnie Taylor, a soul singer from Detroit, have all dined at Vicki’s. Mr. Taylor allegedly had his sister pick up Vicki’s shifts, and she would drive up in a Rolls Royce and demand curbside service. If only she knew!
Vicki’s, a Detroit institution since its inception, is now led by veteran restaurateur and caterer Barry Winfree, who is dedicated to protecting the restaurant’s original recipes and archiving its storied past.