Smoking hot

BBQ stand becomes a fixture on South Monroe Street

Cedrick Davis goes through early morning prep at 5 Bucks BBQ.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook writer

Barely an hour after sunlight had broken through the skies, Edwin Barcus was already switching between two huge grills at 5 Bucks BBQ.

Lunchtime was still a few hours away, but Barcus wanted to have the meat, chicken and sausages done just right.

“It’s fast food with a country flavor,” said Barcus. “You put your heart and soul into it. It’s your staff and customer service. But it starts and ends with the owner. I have to make sure all my staff it on point every day.”

That includes Barcus’ stepson,  Cedrick Davis, and two servers who work inside the building.  Davis starts his day inside the new tiny gray building where the business recently relocated at 1622 South Monroe Street. He methodically prepped the side dishes and made sure there was plenty of sauce to last the day.

“I’m very, very concerned about the quality,” said Davis whose duties includes trimming excess fat from each slab of ribs. “I don’t like anything thrown out and I like everything to be the best. Every time you come to get a plate, I want it to be just like the last time.”

Making sure of that is labor intensive to the point that Barcus’ wife who is Davis’ mother, Janice, occasionally lends a hand. Each day they put no less than 100 slabs of ribs and 500 pounds of chicken leg quarters on the grill.  Briskets and turkey legs also make up the menu. Add to that having to peel about 100 pounds of potatoes each day.

Nothing is compromised, Barcus said. Not even when they throw a once-a-year customer appreciation day with free food at Tom Brown Park.

“While you’re there, you could eat all you want,” Barcus said. “You’ll be surprised how many people show up for that event.”

Despite the growth of his customer base, Barcus said opening a restaurant isn’t in the cards. His plans for the new location, however, include adding more parking spaces on the two-acre property.

 Customers who have been ordering up Barcus’ cooking since his early days say they come back because of consistency in the flavor. 

It took some nudging for Barcus to get the business started, though.

Barcus was manager at a local restaurant when word of his grilling skills got to one of his staffers. That led to a suggestion by the staffer that Barcus take his grill out to a car wash, assuring him that if his skills as good as advertised he could find it financially worthwhile. 

“I said, ‘man, I’m already busy,’” Barcus recall responding.

Barcus  had a change of heart a few years after the conversation a little more than 20 years ago. 

These days Barcus is operating 5 Buck BBQ, which has become a fixture on South Monroe Street. In January, Barcus and Davis moved the business from the intersection of Monroe Street and Palmer Avenue to a location half block south.

The crowds followed them. Weekdays the line is long with few breaks. On Saturdays the crowd is twice as big over longer periods of time.

The food goes almost as fast at Barcus could get it off the grill, the smoky flavor permeating the surroundings. It was that smell that attracted Spencer Hunter when he stopped by for the first time.

“It’s the good food and great quality,” Hunter said, explaining why 5 Bucks BBQ is one of his favorite eating spots. “It has the smoky flavor. The deep flavor.”

Word-of-mouth by customers like Hunter is what keeps his business growing, said Barcus, who also points to the price of a meal as another reason.

Selling a meal for $5 is what inspired the name, said Davis, 32, who started working with his stepfather at age 8. At that time the business was known as E&J Rib Shack. 

The name change didn’t come until 2013 when Barcus fell ill and was hospitalized. Davis said he suggested the new name and a few other changes that his father resisted as first.

“He was mad,” Davis said. “Oh, he was mad.”

Uncertain if Barcus would be able to work the long shifts after his release from the hospital, Davis moved ahead with restructuring the business. 

One thing he didn’t change was the recipe. That his stepfather is happy about.

“You’re only as good as your last meal,” Barcus said. “Regardless how it was last week, they want to know how it is today. Now.”

And the price.

“You have to give the working man something he can afford,” Barcus said. “You would think people are having financial success right now but a lot of people are hurting financially. If they can get a meal for five bucks they’re going to tell somebody.”

No one had to tell Glen Young. He’s Barcus’ neighbor and friend for more than 20 years.

“He is a real good cook and he’s been cooking long enough to know what he is doing,” Young said. “He is particular about how he cooks his food and how he preps it and gets it ready for the customers to keep his business going.”