In 1932, Zelma and James Graham opened The Rib Station at the corner of Washington Avenue and Chestnut Street. The restaurant was open 11 a.m.- 2 a.m., seven days a week until it closed in 1967. In the 1940s, the Grahams’ had six stone cottages built near the restaurant, which became Graham’s Modern Tourist Court. Both Zelma and James became community leaders, as they served on administrative boards of The United Way, the Council of Churches, and other civic organizations.
For 35 years, the thriving business served as a social hub for Springfield’s African-American community. Every weekend, cars would be lined up along Washington and Chestnut. You could find almost anybody on Friday and Saturday nights at Graham’s.
The Graham’s daughter, Elaine, helped run the business, and she attributed its success to three primary factors: high-quality food, great service and location. James was an excellent cook, and he visited local packing houses, selecting only the best meats. Employees got to know customers and would personally call them by name. The restaurant, barbeque sauce and catering business served the public at large. Chestnut Street was a Route 66 bypass and many travelers would stop to eat and to sleep. It was close to O’Reilly Army Hospital where families of patients would stay and where staff would eat, and it was near the Shrine Mosque. Many famous entertainers ate and stayed at Graham’s, including Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Lionel Hampton, Louis Bellson and Harry Belafonte.