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Bar-B-Que owner dies at 85; recipe still secret

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

ELGIN — If there were a hall of fame for Elgin-bred foods, the Morris Bar-B-Que surely would be in it, alongside the Burns Malt and the Lazarra’s Italian Beef Sandwich. The man who dished up Morris Bar-B-Que to four decades of Elginites has died at age 85.

David Gleason, son-in-law of longtime barbecue shop owner Jack Krabbe, said Krabbe died Wednesday in Denver, Colo. Services will be held Tuesday in Colorado.

“Jack was a real character, a funny guy who always made me laugh,” Gleason recalled Friday. “And their barbecue was so popular! Once, I was at O’Hare Airport and needed to contact him. I tried to find out the phone number of Morris Bar-B-Que in Elgin and the operator said it was an unlisted number.

“Imagine, a restaurant with an unlisted number. I asked Jack about that, and he said that if the number was in the phone book, people would be calling all the time and asking for takeout, and they didn’t have time to deal with it.

“Another time, I told Jack he ought to trim the tree branches because they had grown over his sign. But he just said, ‘Everyone knows where we are. They don’t need to see a sign.’ ”

Gleason believes the legendary restaurant was founded about 1930 by siblings Bill, Harry and Martha Morris. Setting up shop on Villa Street across from what would later become the Colonial Hotel, they sold pulled pork or pulled beef, piled on a bun with coleslaw and various mystery additives, based on their mother’s family recipe.

The Morrises sold the eatery in 1948 to Cal and Nina Weiss. Three years later, Krabbe and partner Jack Conner bought it.

They would continue running it until they decided to retire in 1990. Krabbe then moved to Colorado to live near family members, and Conner moved to Jacksonville, Fla., for the same reason.

After the Route 20 Bypass drew off much of the auto traffic past the Villa Street location, the partners moved Morris Bar-B-Que into a converted house on South McLean Boulevard, across the street from the Larkin High School campus.

“Jack Conner put up the money, but my father-in-law did all the work,” Gleason said.

Conner died in Florida in 1997. He also had helped his father run Conner’s Restaurant and the Star Sandwich Shop in downtown Elgin, and he had operated a tavern on North Grove Avenue for years.

When this Courier-News columnist asked in 2002 whether any readers knew the recipe for Morris Bar-B-Que, half a dozen readers sent in various versions that they assured were the real McCoy, obtained from employees at the restaurant. But Conner’s widow, Elinor Conner, read what we had published, angrily called up this columnist and said none of the readers had gotten the recipe right.

“It’s a secret recipe, and it was never shared with any of the help,” Elinor Conner said. She added that the recipe was a valuable piece of intellectual property owned by her and Krabbe, and she said they were in the process of trying to sell it to other restaurateurs.

“We’ve had offers from people in California and Arizona and Wisconsin — people who originally lived around Elgin and now are interested in buying the recipe and training from us so they can start selling Morris Bar-B-Que where they live now,” she said in 2002. “And when I say ‘buy the recipe,’ I’m talking about four or five figures.”

Gleason said Elinor Conner died in Florida about five years ago. He said that “the recipe was sold to a man in Californian who wanted to make it in a restaurant, but he apparently never did anything with it.

“My wife has a copy of the recipe,” Gleason said. “Every few months, Jack would fix up a big pot of it for his friends and family out here, so we have gone on enjoying Morris Bar-B-Que in Colorado for years.”

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