barbecue's equivalent of David in a city of Goliaths.
Stand-alone barbecue stands and independent restaurants in the
Jacksonville area are competing against chains such as Bono's Pit
Bar-B-Q, Woody's Bar-B-Qand Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q.
You've seen the independents in out-of-the-way places, operating
with little or no advertising. Sometimes, somehow, they stay open
and give their corporate cousins a run for their money. Other times,
they come and go before you have a chance to test the fare.
The many openings and closings makes it difficult for the
National Barbecue Association to estimate the number of barbecue
restaurants in Florida, Jacksonville or the United States, NBA
spokesman Joe Phelps said.
Phelps, who publishes the Douglas, Ga.-based monthly National
Barbecue News, said barbecue and barbecuing foster a spirit of
competition and entrepreneurship. Several hundred barbecue contests
are held every year all over the world, and, for some cooks, winning
inspires a move into the business world.
has a recipe that they think is better than other people's," he
said. "They want to try it out. You've got them mom-and-pop places.
But I can't say they stay a long time."
Tender Ribs, 5940 Atlantic Blvd., is open Monday
through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to
midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight.
Blackjack B-B-Q, 4701 Shirley Ave., is open Monday
from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and
Saturday from 3 to 8 p.m.
Cracker's, 445 State Road 13 in Julington Creek and
1515 County Road 210, is open Monday through Saturday from 11
a.m. to 9 p.m.
To make a business out of barbecue, staying small isn't a viable
option, Phelps said.
"You've got to go with volume to compete with the big boys," he
Jacksonville restaurant consultant Tom Borchert disagrees. He
said the independents can survive as along as they provide
convenience and friendly service.
"If these guys can get back to what McDonald's and Burger King
were with fast, friendly service, more power to them," Borchert
said. "That's the niche."
Barbecue has always been food of the people, by the people and
for the people. It's relatively cheap, and it's easy to cook. Many
have tried it on a backyard grill and added their own twists to it.
But is trying to make a living from it culinary courage or financial
A look at three of Jacksonville's
many barbecue businesses garnered mixed reviews.
"It's the heat and
the time that we put into what we're doing," Duran Bailey said
of his barbecue at Tender Ribs. "Right here, we've got home
-- Don Burk/Staff
Opening a barbecue restaurant was a declaration of independence
for Duran Bailey, owner and cook at Tender Ribs on Atlantic
"I'm just a man who's going to march to the beat of his own
drum," he said.
Bailey, 35, initially opened his restaurant on the Westside in
1998 after becoming disenchanted working as a longshoreman on the
Jacksonville docks. In July 2000, he moved near the University
Boulevard intersection, to a building that was a former Italian deli
and a Taco Bell before that.
Bailey used $10,000 of his own savings to start the restaurant
and now works 12 hours a day, six days a week to keep his labor
costs down. The only advertising is the colorful writing on the
windows, otherwise, he gets all his customers by word of mouth.
Bailey calls it "grass-roots advertising."
"Every day I see a new customer, and that keeps me happy. That
means I'm doing something right," he said. "That gives me the drive
to get up every morning."
Chain barbecue restaurant Woody's operates a place around the
corner from Tender Ribs. But Bailey, who looks like an NFL
linebacker, isn't intimidated. He calls their fare "commercialized
He can't buy food at the
mass-quantity prices of the chain restaurants, but Bailey said he
makes up for it by keeping low overhead costs and spending more time
on the preparation to produce a different kind of barbecue.
Duran Bailey owns
Tender Ribs on Atlantic Boulevard. He first tried the barbecue
business on the Westside in 1998.
-- Don Burk/Staff
"It's the heat and the time that we put into what we're doing,"
he said. "Right here, we've got home taste."
It's been 14 months since he opened, and Bailey said although he
still hasn't turned a profit, he's getting closer all the time.
"It's coming around. I've got to be patient until the economy
picks back up," he said. "It's hard right now, but I think it's got
Blackjack B-B-Q is a family affair.
Two 30-something Jacksonville couples -- Rich and Vita Goldfarb,
and Art and Lori Franco -- started the business in a former
Skinner's Dairy stand on Shirley Avenue, off Blanding Boulevard, in
May. The tiny place that serves only takeout is open only three days
a week because all four owners have full-time jobs.
Cheap rent, no advertising and no payroll -- combined with a
loyal customer base -- has allowed the business to get its financial
feet under it, the owners said.
It started with an $11,000 investment. Five months later, the
business is out of the red. The owners said they're starting to
think about opening a full-fledged sit-down restaurant in a higher
Blackjack B-B-Q began with Rich Goldfarb and Art Franco cooking
for themselves and then catering dinners for people who heard about
them. They opened the Shirley Avenue stand almost as an
"It's the same stuff we used to make at the house; we just
brought it down here," Art Franco said. "We don't buy anything
that's processed out there."
The two men said they'd quit their full-time jobs in a second to
open a barbecue restaurant. Goldfarb owns a dry cleaning business;
Franco is a tire salesman.
"It's not like work being here,"
Goldfarb said. "It's for personal satisfaction. You don't get that
at dry cleaning."
Manager Pam Murphy
(from left) and owners Mary and John Roach work in the kitchen
of the St. Johns County Cracker's. The first Cracker's opened
in Julington Creek.
-- Don Burk/Staff
The business got its name from the type of wood used to cook the
The two couples meet at the stand every Thursday afternoon to get
ready for customers Friday through Monday. They call it "prep
night," and it takes five hours to prepare all of the menu items.
The stand is closed on Sundays, but Blackjack B-B-Q still does
special orders for Jaguars fans and catering jobs.
It's an 18-hour process to produce the ribs, beginning with
marinating and starting to smoke them at 4:30 a.m. on the two huge
smokers in a screened-in patio attached to the stand. Art Franco
starts the cooking on Friday mornings, Rich Goldfarb does Mondays,
and they alternate Saturdays.
Vita Goldfarb, a high school teacher, said it would be tough to
keep her day job, but she is confident the business has a future.
And Lori Franco said the enthusiasm of the two husbands is crucial.
"With both of them having so much passion," she said, "I know
they could make it work."
Jacksonville native John Roach got tired of traveling for his
marine construction job and noticed a void in the Julington Creek
restaurant offerings. It was 1994, before the area on the south side
of Jacksonville developed.
So Roach and his wife, Mary, started Cracker's, and the tiny
barbecue restaurant along San Jose Boulevard has become one of those
quirky, classic American institutions that neighborhoods grow up
around and take to heart.
The place has been so successful that the Roaches helped
relatives open a barbecue restaurant in South Carolina last year. In
July, the couple opened a restaurant in an area of St. Johns County
that's on the cusp of development, expecting to duplicate their
success in Julington Creek.
John Roach never operated a
restaurant before the Julington Creek Cracker's. But his business
acumen couldn't have been better illustrated than by his reasoning
for opening the restaurant: "There was a need for a good eating
Art Franco (left)
and Rich Goldfarb, co-owners of Blackjack B-B-Q on Shirley
Avenue, cook up barbecue for their take-out only business.
-- Don Burk/Staff
It was as simple as that.
Mary Roach was just finishing her nursing training at Florida
Community College at Jacksonville when her husband came up with the
idea. How did she react?
"Scared to death," she said. "I told my husband that he had lost
If he did, he was crazy like a fox. Mary Roach quickly quit her
nursing job when she saw how successful Cracker's was becoming.
A good location is helpful to a successful restaurant. Offering
reasonably priced food in good portions doesn't hurt any, either.
The public naturally seeks out small, independent restaurants,
said Ron Wolf, professor of culinary arts at FCCJ.
"It gives them a sense of place and a sense of community and
nostalgia," he said. "They can identify with the proprietors."
But the numbers don't lie. Three out of five independent
restaurants close within five years of opening, Wolf said.
Lack of money and lack of business knowledge are the two biggest
reasons for closings, he said. Wolf recommended that people
interested in starting their own restaurant first work at one to
learn the ropes.
John Roach worked 15 hours a day, nearly seven days a week for
the first two years after Checker's opened.
"I had no idea what I was getting myself into," he said. "We had
the line of people out the front door from the day we opened. It was
intense for the first couple of years."
Despite the absence of any advertising, the business now has 35
employees, two restaurants, a thriving catering service, and the
couple is looking for more locations.
"I think the only misconception is it ain't as easy as it looks,"
John Roach said. "Anyone who's successful had to work at it."
Staff writer Christopher Calnan can be reached at (904)
359-4404 or via e-mail at ccalnanjacksonville.com.