About this Business
From Our Editors
Though Joel Nickson and his brothers didn’t open the first Wishbone until 1990, the restaurant’s history actually dates back to World War I. Their grandfather, an American soldier, met their grandmother in France, and convinced her to come back to rural North Carolina with him. Once in America, she began to experiment in the kitchen, applying French techniques to ingredients she could find locally. In that simple desire to adapt, she unknowingly designed an approach to food that would be carried through her family's next two generations.
After Joel was born, his family eventually relocated to New Jersey, but he carried a torch for the French-Southern meals he grew up on. At 15 he took a job at a soul food restaurant, and went on to apprentice at famed New York City establishments 21 Club and Quo Vadis. He then followed his roots back to North Carolina, becoming the head chef at a resort there before getting an invitation from his brothers in Chicago: they wanted him to help them open their own restaurant. He agreed.
Naturally, the project became a family affair. The brothers and a sister-in-law helped build the space with their own hands. Once it was ready, their mother, Lia, covered the walls with her surrealist, farm-inspired oil paintings. They started out serving breakfast and lunch in a style they call Southern Reconstruction, which integrates everything their family had tasted or prepared in France, North Carolina, New York, and Chicago—with an extra bit of Creole spice. As the Nicksons supplied larger and larger crowds, they decided to start serving dinner as well. Beneath fried-egg light fixtures, diners can start their day with buckwheat pancakes or shrimp and grits, and dig into dinners such as blackened catfish or NC-style pulled pork, sometimes served by Joel’s own children.