Herman Hall has been gone since 1988, but his memory lives on through the “restaurant dream my father never got to bring to life,” said son Ollie Hall, of Lawrence.
Herman’s Place began just more than a year ago, on April 22, 2020, about a month after shelter-in-place orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic went into effect. Ollie started the free community restaurant that day by delivering fried catfish to one family and an elder, he said.
“My father use to cook food and give it to his friends and anyone in the neighborhood,” Ollie wrote in an April 22, 2020 post announcing the launch of Herman’s Place.
“I’m trying this out in one of the worst times in our history because the world needs hope and nothing says that like someone giving you free food with a smile.”
The free restaurant was created “to feed anyone who is hungry and to support the local businesses and organizations that keep the community strong.”
Herman’s Place is small, with a staff of just two, Ollie said — but over the past year, they’ve served at least 1,000 people. Meals are delivered to the folks they feed, and they never let anyone in the house they cook out of to keep everyone safe, Ollie said.
Ollie shared a bit more of Herman’s story with the Times. Herman dropped out of school around fifth or sixth grade, and he witnessed a lynching around that time period.
Herman got a job building structures for the military during World War II, but he didn’t realize that it was a prisoner of war camp for Japanese and German people, Ollie said.
“He took me to the area and showed me what was left of the camp,” Ollie said. “I figured out later in life how much of a weight that was on his soul.”
Later, Herman walked away from a farm he could never pay off because sharecropping was another form of slavery, Ollie said. He went to work in Hutchinson, Kansas, and almost died when there was an explosion that killed workers on what was then one of the tallest grain elevators in the world.
After that, Herman started a construction company and moved structures from one place to another, even without an engineering degree. It was the only Black-owned construction company in southwestern Kansas at the time, Ollie said, and it lasted more than 30 years.
“He told me that I came from a family that was blessed with a mindset that we could accomplish anything, if we just work and believe,” Ollie said.
Hall posted to Facebook a long list of folks he wished to thank on the one-year anniversary Thursday.
In particular, Ollie noted to the Times, Reverend Verdell Taylor Jr. “has supported us from day one.” Taylor leads the St. Luke AME church at 900 New York St.