By Raetta Holdman

DENVER (CBS4) – His name is on an elementary school and a street, but Bruce “Daddy Bruce” Randolph’s biggest impact on Denver remains his mission to feed those in need for Thanksgiving.

(file photo credit: CBS)

It’s a 50-year tradition that continues two decades after his death. Daddy Bruce was born in Arkansas in 1900, the son of a former slave, and the 1960s he came to Denver where he opened his iconic barbecue restaurant in Five Points.

From his love of cooking, grew a mission.

“He wanted to be like Jesus and feed 5,000. It just started from there and it grew. First doing 200 meals in City Park and every year it just grew,” explained Rev. Ronald Wooding, the executive director of the Daddy Bruce Legacy Foundation.

Daddy Bruce cooked those first meals on his portable grill. Eventually he started hosting the Thanksgiving dinner at his restaurant.

(credit: CBS)

Wooding said he believes at one point, Daddy Bruce’s Thanksgiving meal was one of the largest in the nation. There are some estimates he fed between 30,000 to 40,000 people on Thanksgiving alone.

But Daddy Bruce didn’t just feed the poor, he served countless meals out of that Five Points restaurant and he had a barbecue truck. He took that truck to the Denver Broncos when they practiced on Wednesdays, winning the affection of coaches and players alike.

(credit: CBS)

He was such a part of the Broncos organization, when he died in 1994 the team paid for his funeral.

Denver city leaders knew the impact Daddy Bruce had on the community and honored him while he was still alive. His restaurant was at the corner of 34th Avenue and Gilpin Street. In 1985, the city changed the name of 34th Avenue to Bruce Randolph Avenue as a tribute to his philanthropy.

After his death, the Denver Public Schools renamed a school in the neighborhood Daddy Bruce served to honor his legacy. On Bruce Randolph School’s website, it says its values — brilliance, respect, unity, character and effort — really exemplify who Daddy Bruce was.

After Daddy Bruce’s death, his son, Bruce Jr., continued the Thanksgiving legacy. Bruce Jr. died in 2021.

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Now the Daddy Bruce Legacy Foundation and Epworth Foundation carry on that legacy with the Denver Feed-A-Family program. That program has faced challenges like many nonprofits during the COVID pandemic, turning to gift cards in some cases to fill the need.

“Daddy Bruce always had this saying, ‘Nothing beats love,'” Wooding recalled.

And that legacy of love remains the beating heart of Thanksgiving in Denver.

Raetta Holdman