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    Legends BBQ a thriving figure of the NEA black community
    legends-bbq-a-thriving-figure-of-the-nea-black-community

    May 31, 2024

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    Legends BBQ Smokehouse and Lounge, owned by Reginald and Ruthie Prunty, continues to exemplify resilience against discrimination

    Delta Digital News Service

    Friday, May 31, 2024

    By Avery Jones | Editor

    JONESBORO, Ark. — The restaurant Legends BBQ Smokehouse & Lounge in Jonesboro has had quite the journey to get where they are today. Owned by husband and wife duo Reginald and Ruthie Prunty, the business has been running for around thirty years.

    Reginald Prunty, born and raised in Jonesboro, is a prominent figure in the Jonesboro African-American community. He and Ruthie—who is originally from Dumas, Arkansas–have donated to, contributed to, and volunteered for many local community efforts over the years.

    For example, Reginald was the founder of Jonesboro CityYouth Ministries, a Christian after-school program for young children. Before it was established, Reginald stated, there was no place for African-American kids to get together and have activities.

    In addition, Reginald has been chairman for Crowley’s Ridge Development Council, a board member of Crimestoppers and the community transportation committee JETS, and a member of Community-Oriented Policing (COPS). He has even ran for State Representative of District 59 twice.

    Reginald (right) and Ruthie (left) Prunty.

    “I grew up in the community, and I cared a lot to make a change,” Reginald said.

    The Legends restaurant is another culmination of the Pruntys’ community efforts. Originally, the business started out as a private club called Envision. However, the official name of the business was Arkansas Scholarship Fund, doing business as Legends 1025.

    The Pruntys established this club because they saw a good opportunity to give back to the community, according to Reginald. People of course enjoy drinking alcohol, so why not turn that into money to benefit others?

    The money that was paid for a club membership was later put into a scholarship fund. Every year, the Pruntys would give a scholarship, funded by this money, to a student who needed it. The money made at the bar was used to provide food for CityYouth.

    The scholarship effort was retired when the state stopped requiring that businesses have a certain amount of members in order to retain a liquor license. However, the Pruntys still donate to various community services, in addition to catering for many community events.

    The Pruntys had to work day jobs while they were running their business until they retired recently. Reginald worked as a technician for Xerox and frequently traveled, while Ruthie worked for St. Bernards in catering. Reginald has an associate’s degree in electrical engineering, and Ruthie has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in management along with a certification in dietary management.

    When the Pruntys first opened their club back in the ‘90s, it was the first business owned by an African-American in Jonesboro to have a liquor license. Prunty believes that this is what opened up the rest of the clubs in Jonesboro to accepting more African-Americans.

    However, the club faced many difficulties, as trailblazers often do.

    “Jonesboro wasn’t ready for an African-American to have a liquor license or a club,” Reginald said.

    “Jonesboro wasn’t ready for an African-American to have a liquor license or a club,”

    Reginald Prunty

    There was some negative press surrounding their business. It was even printed in the Jonesboro Sun at one point that “There’s no way that the young man can make a private club successful on West Johnson, not even one of the Rockefellers could,” according to Reginald.

    “Well, I’ve been here thirty years…if I could tell him now, maybe I’m not a Rockefeller, maybe a cousin…” Reginald said, and laughed.

    In addition, even though they had all the qualifications for a liquor license, they didn’t get the license until much later than they should have. First, they were accused of not being in the right location, said Ruthie—even though it’s clear that their building on West Johnson is very far from any churches or schools—and then they were told that they had to get their business up and running within six months or the license would be revoked.

    However, this proved to be an issue because at the time, according to Reginald, very few people in Jonesboro were willing to come work for an African-American. For example, the people who did the electrical work kept their vehicles hidden. The people who worked on the walls would only work at night.

    Furthermore, when picking up alcohol, Reginald was frequently pulled over and forced to show his permit. They would unload the truck on the side of the road as if he was carrying drugs. The club was subjected to frequent shakedowns, as well, in which customers were patted down and told to show their IDs.

    “They would come in when we got customers…they were running through the building…and tell us ‘Turn the lights on right now, right now!’” Ruthie said. “A lot of nights, they’ll set up over here across the street in the fields with the police lights off on the vehicles…they were sitting out there, waiting to see what they can get us for.”

    According to Reginald, before his club opened, there was no other club in Jonesboro that African-Americans could go to. It wasn’t socially accepted for African-Americans to attend any of the other private clubs.

    Reginald Prunty in front of his bar.

    His club paved the way for African-Americans to be accepted into other clubs because it was becoming so popular that it was attracting customers from other clubs. Reginald emphasized that his business wasn’t just for black people but for everyone. He called it “the neutral zone.”

    The club used to host themed nights based on types of music they would play on those nights which would attract different crowds. For instance, there was blues night, rock night, R’n’B night, and Hispanic music night. As a result, they had a good turnout of not just African-Americans, but also white people and Hispanic people.

    “They came out in droves,” Ruthie said.

    “Everybody would leave the 501, everybody would leave Sage Meadows, everybody left Ridgepointe, and they were here, because this is what the happening was,” Reginald said.

    However, this is when everything started to go downhill for the club. It was because the club was affecting the other clubs’ business, according to Reginald.

    In 2010, the Pruntys had to go to a public safety hearing as a result of allegations about violence near the club. The owner of Brickhouse was also there due to violence around his club as well. KAIT8 aired the hearing on TV.

    The Jonesboro City Councilman at the time, Chris Moore, gave the owner of Brickhouse, Dr. Dan Johnson, a warning that if he appeared again before the committee, he was in danger of having his business shut down.

    However, when it was aired on TV, KAIT8 made it seem like the councilman was talking to Reginald rather than Johnson. They replaced the clip of Johnson with a clip of Reginald.

    “Now how fair is that?” Ruthie said. “I was so upset…To shine a bad light on him, they aired it on TV.”

    In addition, Reginald said that when he was asked if he overserved alcohol and answered in the negative, the police chief jumped up and accused him of lying, claiming that he overserved and that his club always smelled of marijuana.

    The committee decided to suspend the Pruntys’ license for three months and put them on probation for a year, but they later contested this and sued the city, claiming that they were in compliance with the alcohol regulations and that he was being treated unfairly due to his race. A restraining order was granted to prevent the suspension.

    “It happened in front of the entire city of Jonesboro. The city of Jonesboro allowed that to happen, the city attorney allowed it to happen, and we had a full house like it was a lynching,” Reginald said. “That’s exactly what it felt like.”

    According to Reginald, there hasn’t been another hearing bringing in private clubs for any similar incidents since then.

    Once the other clubs got wind of the fact that the Pruntys’ club was actually making a significant amount of money and had a strong clientele base, they started recruiting customers from the club, according to Reginald. As a result, the Pruntys were later forced to close their business for three months to rebrand themselves and renovate their building due to a loss of customers.

    In 2017, their business reopened as a BBQ restaurant which also has a bar. They have their own smoker and process their own meats, so everything is made in-house. They even have their own seasoning mix that took five years to develop, which became so popular that many people asked if they would sell it.

    They’ve also catered for many events, such as the grand opening of Natural Grocers in 2017. The event was supposed to be small, and they didn’t originally plan to cook very much, but more people started arriving because word got around that it was so good. They were supposed to only be there for two hours, but five hours later, Reginald said, people were still coming.

    They also host events at the restaurant. On this upcoming June 1, they’re hosting the kickoff for the Juneteenth in Jonesboro celebration from three p.m. to six p.m. There’s going to be vendor popups, food, music, and a couple of speeches.

    Reginald says he wants to eventually publish a book in which he tells his story along with the controversy it inspired, of course using all the required documentation and evidence. However, he also plans to include and give due credit to all of the people who have supported him throughout the years.

    -30-




    Avery Jones is a senior in The Department of English and Philosophy at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. She can be reached at [email protected]




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    Legends BBQ a thriving figure of the NEA black community. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council

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