“The West End is a food desert, or food apartheid area,” said Hannah Drake, a poet and activist, who said Mr. McAtee’s restaurant filled a void. “There are not that many places to eat in the West End. Kids could get food from him after school. Now there is a hole in that community.”
YaYa’s BBQ had been on the corner for five years and in its current building for three, and Mr. McAtee was in talks to buy the building, said his nephew Marvin McAtee. 46, who cooked with him.
The menu included hamburgers, hot sausage links, hot dogs and ribs, but Mr. McAtee told his nephew that the key to success was the barbecue sauce, which was thick but not too spicy because Mr. McAtee wanted it to appeal to everyone.
“‘You have to have something that nobody else in the area has to make yours different, because everybody is in competition,’” Marvin McAtee recalled his uncle saying. “Really, he had the best sauce and the most respect because he had been out here the longest.”
Hundreds of people stood near the restaurant for hours after Mr. McAtee’s death, Ms. Drake said. For nearly 14 hours, his body remained there while the police investigated, said Sadiqa Reynolds, a former deputy mayor and current president of the Louisville Urban League.
“You know how it is to be in community with people who absolutely adored this man, standing across the street from the place they know his body is, and having police on the other side of the street guarding him, and understanding that it was police who took his life?” Ms. Reynolds said.
After Mr. McAtee’s body was removed and the police left, Ms. Reynolds sensed a need for closure. She called on Pat Mathison, a gospel singer whose a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace” at the scene lent a modicum of dignity to the moment.