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Valrico barbecue restaurant started with a pinch of faith

The sign reads closed on Sundays and Mondays, but on this particular Monday, people buzz around the tables at Jaymer-Que Restaurant in Valrico.

Laughter and merriment compete for air space with the smell of dry-rubbed steaks, seasoned salmon and awesome potato casserole. Everyone has a cup of sweet tea, as well as a warm greeting for each person who walks through the side door.

Kyle Jackson, a regular, has come all the way from New Tampa. Jerry and Beth Weaver are among the Bell Shoals Baptist Church members in attendance.

The restaurant is closed for business, but open for fellowship.

Proprietors Jaymer and Cyndi Holcombe call it "Game Night," a standing tradition for about 25-30 friends, select customers and fellow Bell Shoals members. On the first Monday of each month, Jaymer serves up something special in the kitchen, others provide side dishes and folks chip in a few dollars to cover the costs.

It may seem surprising that someone would spend their day off "at work," but those who know the Holcombes' passion for food and family expect such gatherings. After all, it's kind of how it all got started.

• • •

As far back as his college days, Jaymer (like Sting and Madonna, he only goes by his first name) can recall grilling food for roommates. Jaymer cooked chicken thighs and "butt-load" burgers on a little grill on a patio at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Those burgers were "even bigger than the burgers we serve today," Jaymer said.

Yet cooking remained a hobby. Information technology proved to be his calling, even before he got out of college. Grilling ribs and chicken and pork? Just a side.

Flash forward to 2005, and you find the Holcombes at a Bell Shoals family retreat in Camp Kulaqua near High Springs. Again, Jaymer takes charge of the grill and everyone raves about the food. Friend Jerry Weaver says it's the food they will serve at the "marriage feast in heaven." His wife, Beth, coins the phrase "Jaymer-Que," and soon folks are telling him he should open his own place.

"I made breakfast, but nobody encouraged me to open a restaurant," Jerry Weaver says with a laugh.

Still, it would take more than friendly encouragement for the Holcombes' friendly gatherings to turn into a business. Call it divine intervention.

First, Jaymer completed a church questionnaire that sought to determine how members could best serve as volunteers. It probed what members were most passionate about, and how that passion could translate into service.

"Some people like to minister to people, and their answers indicated that," Jaymer said. "Every answer I gave was about barbecue."

When a sandwich shop closed in the Albertsons shopping plaza on the corner of Lithia-Pinecrest Road and Bloomingdale Avenue, Jaymer quietly drove up and stared at the vacant spot, wondering what it would be like to have his own place.

Little did he know Cyndi had done the same thing on her own. But don't call it a coincidence.

"God opened the doors for this place," said Jaymer, who launched his business venture in December 2005.

The first week and the first month were beyond their wildest dreams. Business bustled at such a frantic rate they couldn't keep pace with orders for ribs, pulled pork, chicken and brisket. Having never operated a restaurant, they were learning on the fly.

For the first time in their lives, they told friends, "Don't come by, stay away."

The Holcombes realized they needed a bigger smoker. Not just any smoker, a $17,000 smoker. Most of their money went into opening the restaurant. Jaymer told the salesman, "God's going to work out."

They prayed about it. They prayed at Sunday school and asked fellow members to pray for them. A couple from the group who believed in their passion stepped forward with a $17,000 check: a leap of faith for a food-fueled dream.

Jaymer called the vendor, who normally would have needed three weeks to deliver the smoker. But a restaurant in Alabama reneged on a deal and they had the smoker in three days. Now the Holcombes revel in the restaurant life while making monthly repayments to their benefactors.

"God had the whole thing planned," Jaymer said.

• • •

Before "Game Night" officially gets under way, Jaymer calls everyone together for a blessing. But first, he delves into great detail about how everything was prepared. The only thing Jaymer loves more than cooking is talking about cooking.

Most days, he augments the regular menu with different specials: Cornish hen, chipotle ribs, prime rib and all kinds of different rubs.

Game Night attendees often get to sample the trial dishes. They're sort of like guinea pigs, but no one complains.

During the meal, the front door is unlocked for a moment and Jaymer and Cyndi proclaim that the first person to walk in gets a free meal. It's another Game Night tradition and Ben Stephens couldn't be happier to be the recipient.

After devouring the steak and salmon, and the sweet potato that Jaymer insists needs no cinnamon or sugar, the night's real purpose comes into focus: Nerts. It's a fast-paced, hybrid card game combining elements of solitaire and gin rummy. It's played with multiple decks, and when someone plays out their end, they shout, "Nerts" like they're being tickled.

In between hands, they talk about the ups and downs of marriage and the challenges of parenting. Food and fellowship are the entrees, but counseling is an important side dish.

Salt and pepper are among the seasonings, but so is love, warmth and devotion.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section. He can be reached at hooper@sptimes.com or 226-3406.

.If you go

Jaymer-Que Southern BBQ

Where: 3331 Lithia-Pinecrest Road, Valrico

Hours: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.- 8 p.m. (Closed this Tuesday for spring break)

Contact: (813) 6JQ-4BBQ (657-4227) or www.jaymer-que.com

Valrico barbecue restaurant started with a pinch of faith 04/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 2:58pm]
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