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Barbecue joint carries on the family zest for work

Published Oct. 2, 2005

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

Goosby Jones has a picture of Moses White. White is outside his barbecue restaurant, Cozy Corner, on Main Street near Howard Avenue, sitting in a big leather arm chair.

If White seems like a king sitting there, it's because in many ways he was. For almost four decades, White was an influential community leader in Tampa, courted by politicians. He was credited with helping restore the peace during riots in 1967.

Jones, who directed Tampa's community relations department and worked as a jazz disc jockey, considered White a second father. So did many other people.

When White died March 20, 1984, his funeral service was front page news in the Tampa Tribune.

When the center of Tampa's black community was Central Avenue, just north of downtown, White was in the middle of it, serving poor people, business leaders and politicians with equal grace. A blind singer named Ray Charles was a regular customer. White called the young man R.C.

When urban renewal took down Central Avenue in the late 1960s, White moved to Main Street in West Tampa. The customers moved with him.

But Cozy Corner closed soon after White's death. Economics and the crack cocaine epidemic made Main Street a dangerous place.

For more than 10 years, the most distinctive barbecue sauce in Tampa disappeared, unless you were lucky enough to get an invitation to a White family dinner.

But that changed last Friday, when Gerald White Jr., Moses' 30-year-old grandson, opened the doors of his restaurant on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City.

He calls the place Moses White and Sons Bar-B-Que. He could have added Grandson, Daughter and Great-Grandchildren.

When I stopped in last week, son Alton White, who worked with Mayor Dick Greco during his first administration, was sampling a plate of ribs. Bernadine King, Moses' daughter, was waiting tables. And Gerald White, Gerald Jr.'s father, perched in front of the red brick pit, watching over the slow-cooking slaps of ribs, chicken and pork.

And watching over it all was Moses himself, staring down from a framed portrait on the wall.

Gerald Jr., who worked in the restaurant and was "raised on ribs" said he'd been thinking about restarting the family business for some time.

"I just wanted to keep my grandfather's name alive. To keep it going," he said.

He talked with Moses' widow, 81-year-old Lucille White, and she approved.

Bernadine King said the family got behind the idea.

"The time was right. We got together and prayed about it. And it worked just like clockwork. Everybody in the family came together," she said.

They tracked down Michael Glenn, who worked for Moses White for 31 years, both on Central and Main. Now Glenn comes in at 9 a.m. and starts the oak fire in the barbecue pit and keeps the place clean.

"They told me they needed some help," Glenn said.

The family hung a temporary sign outside the restaurant and people noticed the name.

"People came in saying, "Is this the same Moses White from Main Street?' " Bernadine said.

The family said it was. Then, they provided the evidence: meaty ribs that were slow cooked over an open pit, damped regularly with water and seasoning, then ladled with White's secret sauce as they came off the grill. Add Bernadine's homemade potato salad, cole slaw or baked beans and a couple of spongy slices of Wonder Bread, and you've got a Tampa tradition on a plate.

"We're talking about the continuation of a tradition," said Goosby Jones, who grew up with Alton and the other kids.

Bernadine said the family is still working out the bugs in the new place, but she isn't worried.

"One thing that is straight is the product," she said.

In fact, the family is downright cocky about the product. The slogan on the newly printed menus is simple: "WE ARE BAR-B-QUE. EVERYTHING ELSE IS AN IMITATION."

Gerald White Jr. said he knows that running a restaurant is hard work. He knows because his grandfather taught him that.

"That's what my grandfather was all about _ hard work," White said.

With that, he turned and went back to the smoky pit. It was time to season the ribs.