Youman Fullard Sr., who fulfilled a lifelong dream when he and his wife took over ownership of the Yellow Bowl Restaurant and turned it into one of the city's most sought-after soul food destinations, died Sunday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Northwest Hospital.
Mr. Fullard, who lived in Northwest Baltimore, was 73.
"Youman was a much-loved figure around town, and the Yellow Bowl was known as a place for spreading good cheer and picking up political gossip. I was a big fan of the Yellow Bowl," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, now a Howard University administrator.
"I spent a fair amount of time there, and the Greenmount Avenue location was a good place for politicians and activists from the east and west side to meet," said Mr. Schmoke. "And we'd get our fill of good food and political information at the Yellow Bowl."
The son of sharecroppers, Mr. Fullard was born in Sumter, S.C., where he attended elementary school.
In 1952, he moved to South Baltimore with his family and graduated from George Washington Carver Vocational High School, where he studied to be an automobile mechanic.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Fullard worked a succession of jobs, all the while nurturing his dream of opening a restaurant.
He was a city sanitation worker, then became a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad track worker and took a job on the bottling line of the National Brewery in Highlandtown.
In 1958, he married Eva Virginia Knight.
He then began driving a taxi for the Yellow Cab Co. While raising their four children, the couple saved enough money to open a grocery store in the 1200 block of Greenmount Ave., in the city's Johnston Square neighborhood.
Next door, at 1234 Greenmount, was the original Yellow Bowl Restaurant, which dated to 1921. It took its name from the steady stream of customers from the nearby Yellow Cab Co. office and garage at 508 E. Preston St.
Mr. Fullard continued driving a cab while working with his wife in the grocery store. In 1968, the Yellow Bowl's Greek-American owners sold the restaurant to the Fullards, who changed to a soul food-oriented menu, leaning heavily on pork ribs, fried and stewed chicken, short ribs, sweet potato pie, pigs' feet, candied yams, collard greens, chitterlings, corn muffins, sweet potatoes, fish, stewed cabbage, scrapple sandwiches, grits, cobblers and bread pudding.
Many of the restaurant's recipes came from Flora Hudson, Mr. Fullard's aunt, family members said.
Both whites and African-Americans came to dine in the establishment, which was one of the oldest black-owned restaurants in the city. They sat in yellow Formica booths, while the jukebox played so the cooks could listen to their favorite songs while working, making for a lively atmosphere.
Even such celebrities as rapper LL Cool J and members of the R&B group New Edition found their way to the Yellow Bowl.
"Fried chicken is one of Yellow Bowl's crowning achievements," wrote a Baltimore Sun food reviewer in 1997. "The batter is not too thick, very crispy, and the chicken beneath is flavorful, moist and greaseless. … Desserts are rib-sticking and extra sweet, often redolent of cinnamon and nutmeg."
Mr. Schmoke, who began eating at the Yellow Bowl when he was a teenager with his mother, was particularly fond of its scrambled egg breakfasts that came with bacon, grits and biscuits.
"Everything I loved there was, I am sure, on Jenny Craig's blacklist," said Mr. Schmoke, laughing. "It was just good, down-home Southern cooking, and oh, those biscuits, they were just great."
In 1998, he told The Sun that the Yellow Bowl was a place filled with "real nice people" where "you can really plug into the past."
The Fullards, whose children worked alongside them in the business that was recognizable by its lemon-yellow facade, were so successful that in 1975 they opened a second Yellow Bowl at 5131 Park Heights Ave.
Mr. Fullard's daughter, Venise Steeple, who lives in Woodlawn, explained that "everything like the gravies and sauces — and even the potato salad — was yellow because we used food coloring."
She declined to reveal all of the ingredients of her father's special sauce that he used to bathe meats.
"The kick comes from lemon juice and honey — and that is all I am going to say," said Ms. Steeple, who said the meat just fell off her father's slow-cooked ribs and chicken.
"Youman had a wonderful sense of humor and was a very welcoming guy," said Mr. Schmoke, who had Mr. Fullard cater events during his tenure at City Hall. "He was a great friend to people throughout the city."
In a 1994 interview with The Sun, Mr. Fullard explained his restaurant's philosophy.
"I had a policy that I used to try and make the few minutes anyone spends here the best few minutes of their day," he said. "At other businesses, the people there act like they're doing you a favor. Not here."
In 2000, the Greenmount restaurant was destroyed by an early-morning grill fire, and because the insurance had lapsed, Mr. Fullard and his wife had to use $70,000 in savings to reopen the business.
After Mrs. Fullard's health began to fail, the family decided in 2005 to lease both restaurants, and Mr. Fullard retired. Mrs. Fullard died in 2008.
The Greenmount Avenue location closed in 2006; the Yellow Bowl No. 2 on Park Heights Avenue remains open. The family no longer has any involvement in the restaurant.
Because he was owner of one of the city's oldest black-owned restaurants, he was honored with a statue in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.
Mr. Fullard enjoyed traveling, fishing, and playing dominoes and cards.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at March Funeral Home, 4300 Wabash Ave.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Fullard is survived by three sons, Youman Fullard Jr., Vincent Fullard and Jeffrey Fullard, all of Baltimore; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.