Epworth United Methodist Church was founded in 1890 by Melissa Briggs (Methodist Deaconess) on 31st and Walnut Streets in Denver. It remained in that location until 1915, when it was moved to 31st and Lawrence Streets.
Epworth moved to its present location in 1980. Epworth is a small congregation with a big heart. Presently the church is involved with the Community-Wide Thanksgiving, feeding approximately 5,000 families in 2018. Epworth also sponsors the Toys for Tots Christmas Program, Talent Camp, Community Bible Study, The Betsy Coleman Take Flight leadership Program, a food and clothing bank along with a host of other programs.
No one personifies the charity of Thanksgiving more than Daddy Bruce, the restaurateur who provided holiday feasts for the needy of Denver for more than 30 years before his death in 1994 at the age of 94.
Bruce Randolph opened Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Q in 1963, at the age of 63, on the corner of Gilpin Street and East 34th Avenue. For many years he donated his own time and money to serving Thanksgiving dinners. He later took in donations and many local celebrities -- including members of the Denver Broncos, police department, and clergy -- helped Daddy dish out tons of turkey, ribs, dressing, potatoes, and yams. He also gave away clothes and food on his birthday, Easter and Christmas. One year he dyed 25,000 eggs for an enormous Easter Egg hunt.
Bruce Randolph was born on February 15, 1900, in Pastoria, Arkansas, where his family lived on a small farm. His parents separated when Randolph was young, so he lived sporadically with his grandmother, Laura Hurt, whom he credits for his barbeque sauce recipe and his spiritual belief in Christianity. His grandmother and father both were Methodist ministers.
After picking cotton for his step-father for a dime per week, Randolph left home at the age of 15 and went to Little Rock, where he was hired as a water boy at the bauxite mines before talking his way up to becoming a mule driver. When Randolph was 18 or 19, he would buy a hog for $5, use his family recipes, and sell barbeque sandwiches for 10 cents.
Known as a dapper dandy, Randolph married his first wife, Polly, in 1924. The two had two sons, including Bruce Jr., who worked with him at the Denver eatery before starting Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Que in Boulder. It was this son who first dubbed him “Daddy Bruce.” Randolph’s wife and other son died, and he moved in with his sister and helped his uncle, a doctor, collect bills, riding by horseback around the region.
Daddy Bruce remarried, but the marriage ended in divorce. He became a bootlegger during Prohibition, selling whiskey in Coke bottles for 50 cents.
He eventually drifted to Denver, where he became a shoeshine man. He later became a janitor, but when replaced by a service, went into the food business. Designing his own barbeque pit, which he asked an engineer to draw for him, Randolph borrowed $1,000 from the bank and set it up in his son’s backyard and started a catering business. He began feeding the hungry in the late 1960s with a Thanksgiving dinner for 200 persons at City Park, where he had carried his portable grill and dished out holiday dinner. It became a tradition.
Randolph opened his Five Points restaurant in 1967. In 1985 a section of 34th Avenue, from Downing to Dahlia streets, was renamed Bruce Randolph Avenue.
“I don’t like these things,” Randolph said at the time of the street-naming ceremony. “I’m not a speaker; I’m a cooker.”
His Thanksgiving give-away meals grew astronomically year after year.
“What Daddy Bruce Randolph knows is worth telling,” wrote the late Rocky Mountain News columnist, John Coit. “He gives away tons of ribs and turkey at Thanksgiving, feeding the multitudes. He does this because Jesus did it.”
Randolph had said that growing up he did not even know when Thanksgiving was. Daddy Bruce died in April 1994, after which the community collected $13,000 to bury him. The money that was left over was used by the Rev. Gill Ford, then of Salem Missionary Baptist Church, to buy food for the needy at Thanksgiving -- a fitting memorial to the man. Eventually the event was sponsored by Epworth United Methodist Church and the Epworth Foundation, continuing to grow each year as it celebrates the man who started it all.