Make us your home page
Instagram

East Tampa's own Big John's Alabama Barbecue reopens

Traffic along 40th Street in east Tampa passes Big John’s Barbecue’s new restaurant Monday afternoon. The popular restaurant reopened Saturday after being rebuilt a few yards from its former location because of a widening project along 40th Street.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Traffic along 40th Street in east Tampa passes Big John’s Barbecue’s new restaurant Monday afternoon. The popular restaurant reopened Saturday after being rebuilt a few yards from its former location because of a widening project along 40th Street.

The hundreds of fans who gathered for the grand reopening of Big John's Alabama Barbecue had waited nearly a year for ribs, some chopped pork or just a taste of that famous sauce, so they didn't mind waiting a little bit longer.

Even in the rain.

While much of Tampa partied Saturday at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, at least 200 folks huddled together at the brand new building that was 10 months — and, really, 42 years — in the making.

The original Big John's closed in late March after the city annexed the family-owned property as part of a $100 million project to widen 40th Street, a main east Tampa thoroughfare.

The approximately $450,000 that the city paid the family of the late John A. "Big John" Stephens was enough to build a new 2,200-square-foot restaurant, just a bit farther back from the road at 5707 N 40th St. The new facility has expansive indoor and outdoor eating areas, flat screen televisions and plenty of parking.

Those parking spaces, and the side streets surrounding Big John's, were filled with cars Saturday. Other customers just walked on over. They were ready and waiting at 2:30 p.m. for the ribbon cutting.

But first, a dedication.

People thought they were showing up for barbecue, but they ended up in what seemed like a church service. Which is no surprise: Big John was also the Rev. John Andrew Stephens, native of Eufaula, Ala., and founder of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens on W Palmetto Street.

"Thank you," intoned the Rev. C.T. Kirkland, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, as part of his opening prayer to God, "for the pork that is chopped up and cut up and well-seasoned."

A stream of speakers followed, including Callie Crawford, Big John's only living sibling. Janice Nunn-Nelson led the crowd in a gospel hymn and assistant manager Corey Miller, a grandson of Big John, promised "the same customer service you've had for 42 years." The family, he said, remains devoted to upholding Big John's legacy.

By 4 p.m. the crowd was wet and hungry, but smiling. Finally they were getting their barbecue.

"You never know what you'll miss till it's gone," said Demetrious Tolbert, enjoying a rib. "I never knew how much I loved Big John's barbecue until I didn't have it."

Opening day went smoothly but for one glitch. The enormous chimney failed to work properly, so the barbecuing had to be done outside, the drizzle from the sky mixing in with the sizzle on the grill.

Candy Lowe and Julia E. Jackson, sitting inside at a prime table, didn't notice.

Big John's customers for more than 30 years, all they knew was that their favorite barbecue was back, and "it tasted exactly the same," Lowe said, raving over the ribs, baked beans and potato salad dinner that she had just polished off.

Aside from the food, the new building gave the restaurant a surprisingly upscale feel, Lowe added, something she said the neighborhood sorely needed.

"In our neighborhood, we don't have nice establishments," said Lowe, 46, a local tea retailer and president of Tampa's Independent Black Chamber of Commerce. "It's nice to walk in here and see such a beautiful restaurant."

Jackson, 47, a resident of the neighborhood, agreed. Perhaps, she said, other restaurant owners will be inspired by Big John's loyal customer base.

"We've been waiting for a sit-down restaurant in our community," Jackson said. "It's long overdue.

"This," she added, looking around at the long lines and packed dining area, "is eye-opening."

Share business news

Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3394 or e-mail

sharonlginn@yahoo.com.

East Tampa's own Big John's Alabama Barbecue reopens 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  2. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where cCondominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  3. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. Owners to level Port Richey flea market but may rebuild

    Public Safety

    PORT RICHEY — The owners of the recently shuttered USA Flea Market have agreed to demolish all structures on the property, leaving open the possibility of rebuilding the weekend shopping attraction, according to Pasco County officials.

    Pasco County officials shut down the USA Flea Market after it received hundreds of citations for health and code violations.