Brady Fisher looked panicked.

On his restaurant’s first day, in 2006, Nicole Zavodny saw the worry in his face.

“What’s wrong?” his stepdaughter asked.

“What if no one comes?” he replied.

“People will come,” she said.

Within the next hour, Brady’s Backyard Grill was busy.

People came -- that day and every day -- for the pulled pork, and the macaroni and cheese with jalapenos, and the cornbread pudding, and the beers on ice.

And when Mr. Fisher and his family needed them, they showed up again.

Robert Brady Fisher died on March 16 of brain cancer. He was 61.

Brady Fisher with his kids, Morgan, Dayton and Kalyn. He somehow managed to have both a free spirit and tenacity, Morgan said. (Photo courtesy Morgan DiGiorgio)
Brady Fisher with his kids, Morgan, Dayton and Kalyn. He somehow managed to have both a free spirit and tenacity, Morgan said. (Photo courtesy Morgan DiGiorgio)

Mr. Fisher grew up in Arkansas and lived in Minnesota, but he found the place where he’d spend the rest of his life shortly after getting divorced and winning custody of his three children. He wanted a quiet place and found it in Safety Harbor.

Mr. Fisher met his future wife a few years later and told his best friend that JoAnn was perfect - she loved cigars, drank beer and rode motorcycles.

He worked then in the mortgage industry but wanted a side project, so he and JoAnn started looking for a spot to open a small restaurant. Morgan DiGiorgio, Mr. Fisher’s oldest, said her dad was always a great cook, and he wanted to bring southern food to Safety Harbor.

In 2008, at the start of the financial crisis, Mr. Fisher faced laying off employees. Instead, he saved their jobs by leaving his and started working at the restaurant full-time. By 2009, the small BBQ joint had outgrown its home on 3rd Avenue and moved to Safety Harbor’s oldest building at 340 Main St.. They changed the name then, too, since it never really had a grill, to Brady’s Backyard BBQ.

Brady Fisher and his family shortly after the first restaurant opened. Brady and JoAnn were together for almost 18 years and got married in 2018. The family often called themselves The Brady Bunch. (Photo courtesy JoAnn Fisher)
Brady Fisher and his family shortly after the first restaurant opened. Brady and JoAnn were together for almost 18 years and got married in 2018. The family often called themselves The Brady Bunch. (Photo courtesy JoAnn Fisher)

Mr. Fisher promised newcomers “the coldest Miller Lite you’ll ever have in this town.” He played a steady rotation of Etta James, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King and The Greg Billings Band and also brought in live music. He never stopped searching for the perfect hot sauce to go with the collard greens.

Over time, his kids -- and hers -- worked at the restaurant. On nights when his stepdaughter Maria Law had to close, Mr. Fisher would wait for her, smoking a cigar in the window. On nights when Zavodny closed, they’d stay open a little later, for one more Miller.

Brady and JoAnn Fisher, their children and grandchildren. (Image courtesy JoAnn Fisher)
Brady and JoAnn Fisher, their children and grandchildren. (Image courtesy JoAnn Fisher)

In 2017, Zavodny and her husband, Adam, took over Brady’s. In October 2018, Mr. Fisher was diagnosed with brain cancer. The medical bills started flooding in and so did customers who wanted to know - how can we help?

“He was everybody’s friend,” said fellow business owner Johnny Zemzicki, who hosted a benefit concert at Safety Harbor’s Harbor Bar in January.

Zemzicki worried they’d have too many volunteers.

On the day of the benefit, they raised $17,000. One person after another came over to talk with Mr. Fisher, who sat behind the speaker near the stage in a recliner, listening to the bands he loved, eating hot wings and puffing on a good cigar.

At Brady Fisher’s benefit concert, a Safety Harbor motorcycle shop acted as security. Mr. Fisher loved to have a good time, said his son, Dayton Fisher. (Image courtesy Johnny Zemzicki)
At Brady Fisher’s benefit concert, a Safety Harbor motorcycle shop acted as security. Mr. Fisher loved to have a good time, said his son, Dayton Fisher. (Image courtesy Johnny Zemzicki)

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about Mr. Fisher? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem and see how his family will remember him. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at [email protected].

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