Matilda Dunbar affectionately called “Sweet” was born in Woodville, Mississippi in January 1910 to James (Oliver) Dunbar Sr. and his wife Savannah Dunbar, who were landowners and independent farmers. She opened Auntie Sweet’s Barbeque in the late 1940s, located at 1019 E. Murdoch, Wichita, Kansas. Most patrons who frequented the business referred to Matilda Dunbar as Auntie Sweet. The business was the first of its kind in the Wichita community that served people from all segments of the Wichita community. People from all ethnic backgrounds frequently purchased delicious barbeque and soul food for themselves and their families, as the restaurant enabled customers to dine-in or carry-out. The business was in operation for well over 45 years. Although, she welcomed people from all walks of life into her business, the protocol was written on signs displayed prominently within the restaurant, which read as follows: “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service:” “It isn’t smart to argue with a fool, listeners can’t tell which is which:” “Wife can’t cook, keep her as a pet & eat here.”
Bringing the entire Wichita community together was the foundational cornerstone for the success of Auntie Sweet’s Barbeque, even in the bastion of ultraconservatism, the individuals that frequented Auntie Sweet’s Barbeque were from all walks of life. They included members of the gay community looking to purchase delicious food after a night of dancing in the clubs, to police officers, captains, and lieutenants, who stopped by on their lunch or dinner break. Many patrons of the restaurant represented every fiber of the Wichita community, including professionals on their way to and from work at St. Francis Hospital, to factory workers obtaining family dinner for their households. Most importantly, everyone was treated with respect, and enjoyed the tender smoked barbeque meat and the secret barbeque sauce created by Auntie Sweet. The sauce was sensationally delicious and reflected a combination of sweet and spicy ingredients that transported the customers to a state of complete bliss. Moreover, Auntie Sweet demonstrated the utmost dedication, and worked on average 16-hours per day, 6-days per week. She started her day with grocery shopping to obtain the fresh ingredients listed on the menu to include greens, cabbage, potato salad & sweet potatoes. However, the slabs of ribs, beef brisket, bologna, hotlinks, and ham were obtained from Carl Bell Wholesale Meats. Utilizing quality meat was also the key to her success. Auntie Sweet also made in-house breakfast sausage, and homemade fried-mini-fruit pies.
The memorable atmosphere of Auntie Sweet’s Barbeque may be attributed to the juke box featuring the most popular rhythm & blues songs by Bobby “Blue” Bland, Bobby Rush, Johnny Taylor, and Latimore. In fact, Bobby “Blue” Bland was a favorite of Auntie Sweet, as his lyrics evoked incredible storytelling on the volatile nature of relationships. Auntie Sweet’s love and appreciation for the blues is attributed to growing-up near the birthplace of the Delta Blues-Clarksdale, Mississippi; which heralded great blues singers and musicians such as Scott Dunbar (a distant relative of Auntie Sweet) and Robert Johnson. On a few occasions, Auntie Sweet would deviate from the rigorous responsibilities of running a restaurant to enjoy her second favorite musician and singer, the legendary B.B. King. Watching Auntie Sweet listen to the blues transported her back to her Mississippi Delta roots and the great genre of music created by Blacks in the Jim Crow South, which fused gospel, blues, and rhythm & blues. This fusion of music emanated from their heart and soul, while helping them endure the harsh existence of picking cotton, sugar cane and tobacco on southern plantations. Oftentimes, customers would dine-in to enjoy the delicious food and partake in the ambiance of the Black southern experience.
Auntie Sweet, offered many people, including the disadvantaged within the Wichita community, employment opportunities with equitable wages. She was a woman of great honesty and integrity demonstrated by how she operated her business. Auntie Sweet exemplified a successful Black- owned business within the Wichita community. Moreover, she was the consummate leader and trailblazer, who set the precedent on women entrepreneurship in the 1950’s as she left an indelible imprint; and inspired many women entrepreneurs for generations thereafter.