In the annals of beloved Reno restaurants, Kiah’s Squeeze Inn holds a very special place. Owner and chief cook Kiah Lumpkin offered up Southern home cooking with a menu that included chicken and dumplings, barbecued spare ribs, biscuits and gravy, chitterlings, black-eyed peas, scrambled eggs with calf brains, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. In 1969, a popular TV show called “Then Came Bronson” filmed an episode on location in Reno, including scenes at Kiah’s. After sampling the fare, star Michael Parks deemed the house chili “the best on earth,” which is how Lumpkin billed it from that point forward.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Kiah’s was a residential favorite, a regular meeting spot for the city’s movers and shakers and especially beloved by members of the Black community. The restaurant was also frequented by celebrities. Signed photos on the walls included shots of Sammy Davis Jr., Harry Belafonte, Jim Nabors, Dinah Shore, Roy Clark, and Natalie Cole.
The restaurant got its charming name from its first location, a 10-stool hole in the wall at 220 Lake Street so tiny that patrons had to squeeze by. That spot had opened in 1964, but even that was not Lumpkin’s first Reno eatery. Prior to that, he and his brother had opened Henry and Kiah’s Hickory Pit at 136 E. Commercial Row in 1962, right across from the main railroad depot.
The two were born in Mississippi, and Henry (known as “Happy”) had been the first to move to Reno, where he began to work as a bartender in the late 1950s and for a time ran his own bar called Henry’s Corner on the corner of Lake Street and Commercial Row. The brothers' first joint venture, the Hickory Pit, claimed to be Nevada’s first open pit barbeque restaurant, and as befitting Reno, also featured a cocktail lounge. Henry moved to California in 1964, leaving Kiah to continue on his own.
Upon moving into the larger space at 344 N. Virginia Street in the late 1960s, Kiah’s Squeeze Inn became the first Black-owned business on Reno’s main street. It was a transitional time for Reno’s downtown, as the area’s hotel casinos expanded and the area became increasingly dominated by tourism. In 1973, the Eldorado Hotel Casino opened across Virginia Street, replacing a row of bakeries, restaurants, and shops. In the following years, more small businesses either left the downtown core or went out of business.
Kiah’s Squeeze Inn filed for bankruptcy in 1982 and was evicted a year later. Lumpkin briefly opened Kiah’s Café on West Fourth Street in 1983 but retired for good two years later. He died in 1992 at the age of 83. The buildings that once housed the Lumpkins’ ventures—Henry’s Corner Bar, the Hickory Pit, and both locations of the Squeeze Inn—are all gone, but their enduring legacy is a testament to the passion and commitment of two brothers who brought a little bit of Mississippi to northern Nevada, making all who entered feel at home.