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July 13, 2004   Email to Friend 

Out of the Rubble
Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
July 13, 2004

After a tornado destroyed their poultry houses in 1994, Barry and Barbara Owens, above, built a restaurant and commercial barbecue kitchen. They sell their product to other restaurants and wholesale distributors in vacuum-packed blocks.
When deadly tornadoes slashed across Sand Mountain on Palm Sunday of 1994, Barry and Barbara Owens lost their home, five poultry houses and the pit where Barry prepared his famous pork barbecue for carry-out orders. Thanks to Alfa Insurance, the couple was able to rebuild, and--like the mythical phoenix rising out of the ashes--the business that emerged from the rubble has soared to unimaginable heights.

"Alfa was really good to us," Barry recalled. "But we decided not to build back (the poultry houses), just to build a little restaurant here to seat about 40 people."

Today, the block building near the town of Fyffe that houses Barry's Backyard Barbecue has grown to accommodate 88 customers at a time, and each week, the Owenses slow cook 2,800 pounds of Boston butts for their restaurant as well as for wholesale distributors.

"The meat cooks 16 hours," Barry explained. "We start it at about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon, and we start the pulling process at 8 o'clock Monday morning. We put it in stainless steel pans, and it takes about six and a half hours to cool it from 158 degrees down to 55 degrees. We vacuum pack it in five-pound (blocks), and by midnight on Tuesday, it's at U.S. Food Service in Montgomery."

Not all of Barry's Barbecue, however, is shipped to Montgomery. Ronnie's Meat Market in Huntsville and Fast Fixins Food in Boaz both carry Owens' product, as do about 15 local restaurants. In addition, Barry and Barbara serve up to 800 pounds of their mouth-watering meat at their own restaurant--and they're only open three days a week.

"We're open for lunch and dinner Thursday through Saturday, and some nights, people will be lined up waiting to be seated. Last Saturday, we fed about 400 people," Barry said during a May interview.

But it's not just locals who flock to the Owenses' remote location on DeKalb County Road 527. Every week, folks drive from as far away as Chattanooga and Birmingham to enjoy the country-style buffet at Barry's, which features farm-raised catfish, broasted chicken, succulent ribs and, of course, barbecue. Guests also can enjoy all-you-can eat homemade ice cream from freezers powered by a one-cylinder, 1927 John Deere engine. And Barry's mother, Mama Nell, makes homemade cobblers using fresh, locally grown fruit.

"One couple drives from Memphis about once a month to eat here, and we had a church group from between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa that came for lunch," Barbara said.

In fact, the guest book at Barry's is a lesson in world geography. Alongside comments from folks in the Sand Mountain communities of Rainsville, Sylvania and Ider are words of praise scrawled by travelers from such places as South Africa, Japan, Australia and Trinidad.

So what makes Barry's Barbecue worth driving hundreds of miles? Barry said the secret is "good moist meat that's not dried out, with a good hickory taste."

The recipe sounds simple enough, but it's one that's taken Barry 16 years to perfect.

It all began in 1988 at nearby Antioch Baptist Church when Barry fired up the barbecue pit for the first time for a church benefit. His barbecue was so good he soon began getting requests from friends and neighbors who wanted to buy the meat. During the next few years, Barry cooked barbecue part time at restaurants in Fyffe and Rainsville before starting a carry-out business in 1993. Less than a year later, the tornado struck, forcing him to start again. Ironically, Barry was at church when the storm hit.

With the help of Alfa, the Owenses cleaned up what was left of their home and poultry farm and began working on the restaurant--even before rebuilding their house. They later installed two Southern Pride commercial barbecue pits, each of which will hold 1,400 pounds of Boston butts. They also built a 20-foot by 20-foot walk-in freezer.

Today, the Owenses use hickory wood, supplied by local resident Paul Clements, to smoke their barbecue. The Boston butts cook for eight hours at about 250 degrees, and the heat is lowered to 220 degrees for the last eight hours. A splash of a special vinegar-based sauce is added to the pulled meat during packaging, and the barbecue is ready to heat and serve.

"It takes a long time to develop a cooking process like you want it," Barry said. "We've been using the same cooking process for five years, so it's the same product regardless of where you buy it. We had a lot of learning to do, but when you get something that works, you don't change it."

Amazingly, Barry's Barbecue has just four full-time employees: Barry, Barbara, Barry's mother, Mama Nell, and Barry's cousin, Mike. The Owenses' three grown children help out by catering meal functions all over Sand Mountain.

"Business here has quadrupled since we started, but the same people are still doing all the work," Barbara said. "It's worth it, though, because we enjoy it."

Although Barry still has about 100 brood cows on his 300-acre spread, he said life on the farm has changed since he switched from poultry grower to restaurateur.

"It's a lot more work, and it's more confining," he said. "When we had poultry houses, you could get out at 6 o'clock in the morning and be finished in a few hours. Now, we get out at 6 a.m., but come 9 o'clock at night, we are still going."

Though the hours are long, Barry said he feels God used the tragedy of the Palm Sunday tornado to bless his family.

"The biggest thing, when we started the business, we put it in the good Lord's hands," he said in an interview with the Gadsden Times. "He's always promised He would provide for us, so He's done well for us.

"You know what Proverbs 3:5 says: 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on thine own understanding, acknowledge Him in all ways, and He will direct thy path.' So, he's our Director."

Barry's Barbecue is located 4 miles from Alabama Hwy. 75 and 3.5 miles from Alabama Hwy. 35. The Owenses will ship their barbecue anywhere in the continental United States. For more information call (256) 623-2102 or visit www.barrysbbq.com.

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