Robert I. Burke

Inducted: 2022

Perhaps growing up on Roger Williams Avenue, being walked in a stroller in Roger Williams Park or learning his great grandfather owned the spring that became the Roger Williams National Memorial caused Bob to be smitten with the history of Rhode Island.

That led to the Herbert C. Pell Award for Excellence in American History upon graduation from La Salle Academy in 1973. He was a leader in Rhode Island Model Legislature, formed a non-profit to assist elderly residents, and participated in a program to assist maximum security inmates at the ACI. Political action came early during his middle school years as he protested in the Caesar Chavez grape boycott.

Following the path to Providence College of his father and Irish uncles, he studied Political Science. A junior year abroad expanded his horizons. A statue of Roger Williams in Switzerland showed him the true significance of his home state.

Bob and his wife Ann purchased Providence’s Pot au Feu Restaurant in 1986. A decade later he opened the Federal Reserve Restaurant. He founded the Pot au Feu Ecole de Cuisine Cooking School and created a luncheon program teaching students about French cuisine.

In 2004, Bob conducted the inaugural tour of the Independence Trail hoping 50 people might come but more than 1,000 participated, confirming that Rhode Islanders were craving stories about their history.

The tours grew to become the non-profit Independence Trail Educational Foundation in 2007. Inspired by the success of the Boston’s Freedom Trail, he collaborated with the City of Providence, the State of Rhode Island, and the Federal Government to paint a three-mile green line on sidewalks to mark the path of the Downtown trail. Dozens of bronze markers on the trail enable visitors to hear history on their phones.

Current Independence Trail projects include historic tours for students and tourists, a play about the Rhode Island slavery cartel, a Rhode Island history television series, a challenge of Boston’s “First Shot” claim, and the opening of a replica of a 1700s Colonial Tavern.

During the Pandemic of 2019-2022 he led efforts to raise funds and provide 2,500 meals to
frontline caregivers. His 500-word essay on Covid earned second place in a national writing competition with more than 3,000 competitors. He renovated Pot au Feu to provide protection to his staff and customers with the goal of becoming the “Safest Restaurant in America:’

Bob eschews the title historian preferring the moniker, “Storyteller:’ He has served on dozens of community boards, organized hundreds of events and fundraisers for non-profits, and mentored legions of young aspiring hospitality workers. In addition, he has made thousands of appearances on radio and television and has been written about locally, nationally, and internationally.

Bob is a Certified Moet et Chandon Champagne Sabreur and is likely to be found savoring champagne at the Eiffel Tower, trekking the Himalayas, rappel­ ling off a mountain in Africa, flip­ ping a catamaran in Chatham surf, or doing Polar Bear swimming every New Year’s Day.

His motto, constantly repeat­ ed to his two beautiful daughters Olivia and Emma, is “There’s always a way”

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