A hometown favorite since 1928, McClard's Bar-B-Q is celebrating 90 years in business this year, and it all began with two people, Alex and Gladys McClard, and their passion for people and good barbecue.
Before the now-famous barbecue joint came to fruition in the 1920s, the McClards owned Westside Tourist Court, located just a couple blocks west of the current McClard's location, where the couple offered cottages, a gas station and barbecued goat to its patrons.
It's widely known that McClard's Bar-B-Q is famous for its barbecue sauce. Legend has it that Gladys McClard accepted a recipe for "the world's greatest barbecue sauce" in lieu of payment from a man who couldn't afford to pay for his lodging. The McClards tinkered with the sauce a bit and began serving it with their barbecued goat, and the rest is history. Now, 90 years later, the restaurant is managed and run by the third and fourth generations of the McClard family and its award-winning barbecue has been praised by the likes of Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and former President Bill Clinton -- and it all started with a down-and-out traveler who was short on cash.
In 1942 the McClards did away with the tourist court and moved the business to its current location at 505 Albert Pike Road, renaming it McClard's Bar-B-Q during the transition.
Today, the barbecue rib and fries plate and the tamale spread rank among the restaurant's top-selling menu items.
According to Phillip McClard, grandson of Alex and Gladys McClard, the tamales weren't added to the menu until the 1940s, and they have an interesting back story of their own.
Shannon McClard, wife of McClard's co-owner Scott McClard, said, "There was a tamale salesman named Conrad Ritter that was kind of famous in town, everybody knew who he was, and he went around selling tamales. Gladys liked his tamales so much that she pestered him enough and finally got the recipe for $40."
Phillip McClard recalls a story from his father about the addition of the tamales to the McClard's menu.
"Grandpa went to daddy and said, 'I'm going to start making hot tamales,' and I think daddy laughed at him and didn't think that was a very good idea," Phillip McClard said. "Now, I have to work to keep up with them -- I have three freezers back there almost full of tamales and I rotate them out to a walk-in cooler. If I don't do that, I would not ever have enough."
He said they serve about 400 tamales on any given day.
"There's a lot of labor that goes into the tamales. A ton of labor, starting with me and then the people that finish them up," he added.
Phillip McClard is usually the first one to arrive at the restaurant each day, pulling up to the restaurant during the waking hours of the morning and immediately getting to work on the preparation for the day, beginning with the washing and boiling of the beans, trimming the meat, preparing the tamales and making the famous barbecue sauce -- about 10 three-gallon buckets per day.
"We do everything pretty much from scratch -- there's not a lot of can-opening," he said.
Everything is done the hard way, the long way, and the family agrees that this is part of what has contributed to the restaurant's success. The other part of that is simply having good food and exceptional customer service.
"You have to have food that tastes good, food that leaves a good taste in your mouth," Phillip McClard said. "There's nothing worse than eating a good meal and then, after you get through, you say, 'Man, I've got this weird taste in my mouth.' And, you have to take care of the customers."
Linda McClard, Phillip McClard's wife, recalled a time in the 1950s when barbecue sandwiches were 10 cents and a cup of coffee was only 5 cents.
There was a time when McClard's was open for breakfast, opening its doors at 6-7 a.m. McClard's also once operated as a drive-in, complete with carhops and a jukebox that broadcast over AM radio so diners could listen to music in the comfort of their vehicles.
Today, the carhops are gone and the jukebox has been retired, but McClard's is still a family affair, managed by family members including Linda and Phillip McClard, John and Brenda Thomason, Dolores McClard, and Scott and Shannon McClard.
The restaurant also takes pride in its kitchen and restaurant staff. For the first time in 90 years, McClards Bar-B-Q has a kitchen manager, Don Greene.
"He's a lifelong employee of 16 years. Incredible work ethic, unbelievably good person that we're very lucky to have," Scott McClard said.
McClard's Bar-B-Q can also be seen out in the community during various charity events and fundraisers, and, though the restaurant doesn't have a catering business, McClard's does accept and fulfill large orders, sometimes feeding as many as 1,200 people at one time.
About the community in which they live and work, Phillip McClard humbly said, "We're just thankful to still be around."
McClard's is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and can be reached at 501-623-9665 or by email at [email protected]Tabloids on 05/27/2018