Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | "Smokin' Joe" Stopowenko

"Smokin' Joe" Stopowenko, artist with a welding torch

GIBSONTON — You can't drive by the River's Edge Lounge and Marina and miss the massive sculpture of a .38-caliber pistol outside.

Since summer, the super-sized replica — more than 6 feet tall and at least twice as long — has made passing drivers hit the brakes for a longer look. Tourists pose in front of it for photos.

The gun is actually a barbecue grill and smoker, the last creation of custom grill maker "Smokin' Joe" Stopowenko. Mr. Stopowenko built grilling racks into one side of the "chamber," a smoker on the other side.

When the grilling starts, a pungent smoke exits the gun barrel.

The man who designed and built the grill did happen to like guns. Mr. Stopowenko did his share of hunting. But Mr. Stopowenko was far from violent, his family said.

"If you pinned him in a corner, he would come out and defend himself," said brother Larry Stopowenko, 58. "If you argued with him, he would rather walk away than fight."

He grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and learned welding from his father. He lived in Florida, then Tennessee and Gibsonton again since 2004.

In the meantime, the welder and metal fabricator developed an interest in making custom grills.

He used old propane tanks, oil drums and a variety of torches to craft grills that looked like something else: a rat, a rooster, a hot dog in a bun. He sold them to businesses and individuals, usually for $1,000 to $1,200 each.

Mr. Stopowenko was married three times, the longest for half a dozen years. He loved motorcycles and rode a Harley Sportster 1200, accompanying hundreds of other bikers on runs to biker-friendly venues such as Peggy's Corral in Palmetto or Bike Week in Daytona Beach. He wore a denim jacket with "Smokin' Joe" emblazoned on the back, and decorated with buttons and patches commemorating events or friends who had died on the road.

Welding and smoking took its toll on his lungs. He quit smoking three years ago, but not in time to fend off emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or to have his name on a Tampa General Hospital waiting list for a double lung transplant.

Last year, Mr. Stopowenko readied himself for the work of his life — the .38-caliber pistol. "He said, 'This will be the last thing I do before I die,' " his brother said.

He spent two months on the design alone. After months of cutting and welding, he sold it to the River's Edge, where it became an instant conversation piece.

Mr. Stopowenko, who had been under hospice care, died Jan. 5. He was 54.

Friends will gather at the River's Edge today to remember Smokin' Joe, by the gun that ejects savory ribs, not bullets, whose final work was probably his best.

"That was the top of the line, right there," his brother said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or


Joe Fredrick "Smokin' Joe" Stopowenko

Born: May 3, 1956.

Died: Jan. 5, 2011.

Survivors: Daughters Janice Haughey and Amanda Carlene Mitchell; sister Donna Currier; brothers Larry Stopowenko and John Stopowenko; one grandson; one niece; and four nephews.

Service: 11 a.m. today; River's Edge Lounge and Marina, 6226 Ohio Ave., Gibsonton.

"Smokin' Joe" Stopowenko, artist with a welding torch 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 6:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pitching on no rest backfires for Erasmo Ramirez, Rays

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — After battling through a 61/2-hour affair Sunday in Minnesota that was the second-longest game in franchise history, Rays officials were quick to decide that even though Erasmo Ramirez had just worked the 15th and final inning, they would stick with him to start Monday's game in Texas.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers, comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  2. Britain investigating missed signals over Manchester bomber


    LONDON — Britain's domestic intelligence agency, MI5, is investigating its response to warnings from the public about the threat posed by Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people and wounded dozens more in an attack at a crowded Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last week.

    People gather Monday at St. Ann’s Square in Manchester, England, to view tributes to victims of the suicide bombing that killed 22 on May 22 as a concert by Ariana Grande was concluding.
  3. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant


    The mayor of Portland, Ore., on Monday urged U.S. officials and organizers to cancel a "Trump Free Speech Rally" and other similar events, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous after two men were stabbed to death on a train as they tried to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]
  4. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]
  5. How the 2018 NHL All-Star Game reflects Jeff Vinik's vision for Tampa

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There were several reasons the NHL announced Monday that Tampa will host the 2018 All-Star Game on Jan. 28.

    This was the  logo for the 1999 NHL All-Star game played Sunday, Jan 24, 1999 at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo)