Naka’s Broiler: Compton’s historic place in time
Located on El Segundo Blvd. with the three schools, the restaurant was established in 1956 by late owner Katherine Banks
Local elementary, middle, and high school thespians pay tribute to Naka’s Broiler in 1950s reenactment
COMPTON — The Compton Unified School District took their community back to the 1950s as they celebrated the legacy of local restaurant Naka’s Broiler — the City’s first African-American owned and operated restaurant, Saturday, at Centennial High School.
McNair Elementary School, Willowbrook Middle School, and Centennial High School students and thespians from the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center captivated Compton residents with music, dance, and spoken word performances. To help transport the audience to the 1950s, Warner Brothers provided a stage, costumes and 50’s era furniture.
Afterwards, attendees were treated to hamburgers by Naka’s Broiler, now operated by current owner David Fisher, who said he was personally touched by the tribute and hopes the Compton community is inspired by its history.
“Ms. Banks was my adopted mother. She was a mother to everybody but got closer to me because of my work ethic and enthusiasm I had about the place,” Fisher said. “People should know this started as a Black establishment and still is. There are lots of people here who don’t run their own businesses, so people should know they can still do it. When there’s a will there’s a way.”
Located on El Segundo Blvd. with the three schools, the restaurant was established in 1956 by late owner Katherine Banks, better known as “Mama Naka,” an unsung heroine and citizen of Compton who fought racism and discrimination to own and operate her establishment.
The historic restaurant not only became a favorite of Compton residents, but was also frequented by celebrities including “the Greatest,” heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali, and the late entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr.
CUSD Associate Superintendent Colleen Hawkins, who co-organized the event, said it’s important for Compton students to know the history of their community and to celebrate its local heroes.
“Being new to Compton, I learned all about the rich history and wonderful resources we have around here to discover Black History,” Hawkins said. “It’s important that we bring it home to Compton.
“Instead of just looking at the history of our nation, we wanted to look at local contributors like Mama Naka. We wanted our children to learn the history of where they come from, and where Compton’s been and where it’s going,” she said.
Co-organizer and Centennial High School alum Winnie Jackson (Class of ’62), fondly remembers Banks as a business owner who was dedicated to Compton and its children.
“I knew for all of my days at Willowbrook Middle School and Centennial High School. She was a woman who was soft-spoken and very, very wise,” Jackson recalls. “A lot of us would go to her, sit at her table, eat, share our problems…she would let us get it all out, and then give us her pearls of wisdom.
“She was a surrogate mother. That’s how she got the name Mama Naka. All during the Korean and Vietnam wars her place was where people congregated to talk about what was going on in their families. That’s history sitting right there across the street,” Jackson said.
Centennial student Tailan Mitchell, 16, said Naka’s Broiler is no longer just a restaurant he enjoys.
“After learning about the history of this place today, it’s way more than just a restaurant now. It’s history. The owner had to go through things we’re still dealing with like racial discrimination,” he said.
Centennial ninth-grader Kennedy Smith, who portrayed Banks in a re-enactment, said the more she learned about her accomplishments the more she admired her.
“It felt special to be a part of today’s event. I don’t know if I could’ve gone through all she went through to open her restaurant. She had to be a very strong person,” Smith noted.
“She is a part of our history. What would we do without it? If you don’t know about your ancestors, you don’t know where you’re from. We need to know Compton’s history so we can make it a better place,” she said.