Ruby W. McIntyre, who for 50 years dished out as much affection and goodwill as she did piles of fried chicken, chitterlings and peach cobbler at Ruby’s Soul Food Cafe, died Tuesday at age 95.
Opened in 1952, the tiny restaurant at 15th Street and Brooklyn Avenue became an institution. Regulars who packed the place daily, including generations of law enforcement officers, came to know McIntyre as “Miss Ruby” or even “Mama.”
“When she was in there, she was at once a very gracious host, great in her restaurant, very calm, very kind,” recalled Don Bowerman, who first met McIntyre 40 years ago as a rookie Kansas City police officer and remained her lifelong friend. “But if you crossed her, she could come up with four-letter words so fast it would make your head spin.”
McIntyre died in hospice care in the city where she grew up, Lexington, Tenn., said Bowerman, who has created a Facebook page in honor of McIntyre and her restaurant, Past Patrons of Ruby’s Soul Food Cafe.
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Boddie Parker, one of McIntyre’s cousins from Tennessee who was brought up to call McIntyre her Aunt Ruby, said McIntyre was known in the family as someone who wasn’t afraid to stretch the truth a bit in the service of a good story.
“We always went along with what she said,” Parker said.
In 1988, McIntyre told The Star that she began cooking at age 3 on a Tennessee plantation, although in other news accounts she said the age was 5. Parker said some family members suspect that McIntyre’s parents worked as sharecroppers rather than as plantation workers.
“Miss Effie Howe — she owned the plantation — taught me to cook,” McIntyre said in 1988. “Everybody else went into the field and picked cotton. I stayed in the house and did all the cooking and housework too.”
Deep biographical information on Ruby McIntyre is scant. Parker said McIntyre was born Ruby Watson on Feb. 18, 1920. She was once married to Joshua McIntyre, who is believed to have died in the 1960s.
McIntyre came to Kansas City in 1949 and took a job cooking at William Jewell College, the first place she received any formal education.
“I tell people you’re never too old to learn,” she said.
In previous interviews, McIntyre told The Star that she began in business by selling pies out of the back of her car, followed by sandwiches. She eventually opened a counter where she sold chicken, chitterlings, meat loaf, dressing, black-eyed peas and an assortment of cobblers, pies and homemade ice cream.
McIntyre had no biological children of her own but did raise a niece, Jackie Murray, as her daughter. Murray lives in Kansas City and has children of her own whom McIntyre considered her grandchildren.
At the cafe, which has since closed, McIntyre was well known for her collection of saucy sayings, like her advice to hurried diners: “Slow down. You’ll love longer.”
McIntyre’s years in business were hardly without drama.
In October 1976, three men attempted to rob McIntyre and four customers shortly before 5:30 a.m., about 30 minutes after the restaurant had opened. McIntyre escaped out the back door. A report of the robbery prompted Kansas City and Jackson County officers to converge on their favored eatery. In an attempt to escape, the robbers took a hostage. Police shot and killed two of the men and injured the third.
A year later, a crash outside the restaurant sent a Cadillac smashing through the front of her business. In 1991, a fire closed the cafe for four months. The restaurant reopened after each incident, often with the help of devoted patrons.
Parker said McIntyre returned to Tennessee in 2003.
“She said she wanted to come home,” Parker said.
Until the last two years, when her health slowed her down, McIntyre, even into her early 90s, spent days helping the elderly at a senior center.
“She would always do what she wanted to do,” Parker said.
Among the seniors, that included taking to the stove.
“She loved cooking for people,” Parker said.