Marlena Raines

Author note: In our series “Take Out,” we will spotlight Black-owned restaurants in New Haven. Through this, we hope to introduce Yale students to new eats and experiences across Elm City and support local Black-owned businesses.

When we first walked into Ricky D’s Rib Shack, it was hard not to miss the red walls adorned with plaques, college pennants and paintings. Despite the lack of indoor dining, the ’90s hip-hop music in the background and the energy from the employees tailored a personal and ambient dining experience. We walked up to the counter and placed our order, Combo #1, a platter of beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs with two sides and cornbread. Within 10 minutes, our meal was ready.

We didn’t open our to-go box immediately. Instead, we sat down to talk with Ricky Evans, the owner.

Ricky didn’t start out in the restaurant business. For years, he had been climbing the corporate ladder in New York City before realizing that he wanted something different from his life. He recalled his forever love for backyard barbecues and cookouts for his friends and family — with “good people, good energy and good vibes.” Just from a quick glimpse of the restaurant’s interior, Ricky brings this lively and welcoming atmosphere that he enjoyed throughout his life into this restaurant.

His journey began seven years ago when he moved to New Haven and bought his first food truck. After three years of success, Ricky was able to open his brick and mortar storefront. When the restaurant first opened, the walls were empty. The first thing Ricky did was paint “Everyday’s a Cookout” on the wall — a testament to his mission to recreate the familiar vibes of his fun family gatherings.

Ricky managed to keep the rib shack open throughout the spring despite the COVID-19 outbreak severely hurting the restaurant industry. He’s had to adjust his business model to focus on grab-and-go takeout, delivery and UberEats. But social distancing guidelines have restricted his ability to cater large events like usual, and Ricky misses seeing his customers dine in. He told us stories of loyal customers calling to make sure that Ricky and his restaurant were both doing well throughout the pandemic.

Despite the pandemic halting his usual flow of business, the restaurant is still going strong for almost five years now. Ricky is incredibly grateful for the longevity of his business. However, he notes that some people automatically assume that Black-owned restaurants and shops will quickly go out of business.

According to Ricky, before entering a Black-owned restaurant, customers generally assume “they’re walking into a hole in the wall, or walking into an unprofessional environment … [and] the product isn’t going to be consistent or isn’t going to be good, so a lot of people just don’t even bother.”

Ricky takes pride in his recipes and stellar ratings from local residents and government officials, proving these stereotypes wrong.

Ricky’s dedication for Black visibility is even more apparent when you look at the walls. The college pennants aren’t just any pennants. They’re from historically Black colleges and universities. Ricky Evans went to Virginia State University, and several family members went to Howard University. The paintings are all from a local Black artist named Chris Ferguson. Ricky helps sell Ferguson’s artworks by offering the restaurant’s walls as display.

After our interview, we were finally able to open our to-go-boxes. We were silenced by the first bite.

The ribs, pulled pork and brisket were some of the most tender and juicy meats we’ve ever tasted. The smokiness of the meats paired with the savory in-house barbeque sauce elevated the flavor to another level. It’s difficult to properly describe without actually letting your tastebuds experience the flavor. Coupled with corn on the cob, mac and cheese and cornbread, Ricky’s is traditional soul food like you’ve never tasted before.

We had leftovers from our dinner, so we took it back to a suitemate. And they described Ricky’s food as “dangerously good” — the leftovers did not last very long.

For students and residents who have not ventured up to Science Park, you are missing out on the best ribs in town. And it’s just a quick shuttle ride away — take the Red Line to 25 Science Park, and it’ll bring you straight to Ricky D’s.

Take a break from Yale Dining or your cooking, and try Ricky D’s bestselling beef brisket sandwich, or get a combo sampling of their ribs, brisket, wings and so much more.

Mary Chen | mary.chen@yale.edu

Rachel Chang | rachel.chang@yale.edu