Central BBQ goes beyond good food

By Aaron James

[singlepic id=231 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=right]Really, what more can be said about Central BBQ? An instant hit from the moment the doors opened on April Fools Day in 2002, they have consistently placed in the top three for best BBQ and best ribs, as well as my personal favorite, “Most Beloved BBQ Joint,” in the Memphis Flyer, Commercial Appeal, and Memphis Magazine reader’s polls ever since. And starting in 2008, they added “Best Wings” to their growing list of accolades! They have also been featured on Food Network television, as well as Men’s Journal and Bon Appetit magazines.

Owners Roger Sapp and Craig Blondis have been veterans of the Memphis in May barbecue contest for two decades. They virtually swept the King Biscuit Blues Festival BBQ Competition in 2004, winning first place for shoulder, ribs, seafood (seafood?), and sauce, as well as fourth place for whole hog and overall grand champion!

But no business can thrive on product alone. In order to be truly embraced by the community, a company must first give back to the community, and few places do that more enthusiastically than Central BBQ. Perhaps their best-known contribution in this regard is the annual “Blues on the Bluff” fundraiser for WEVL. Not only does Central BBQ donate all food at cost, but their employees also donate their time to man the vending, and if you’ve ever been to Blues on the Bluff, you know this is no easy task.

Not to be outdone in the burgeoning green movement, they now carry biodegradable packaging, as well as recycle, compost, and use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies as much as possible. And everyone in the know knows to reuse the fancy-shmancy Central BBQ drink cup! (And, as a bachelor, I’m not ashamed to admit they make up the bulk of my “glassware” collection!)

A true family undertaking, Elizabeth Blondis manages the catering side of things, which accounts for approximately 20% of the business, and shipping, which accounts for another 5%. And, as if running such a going concern isn’t enough, both parents equitably swap picking the young’uns up from school. Managerially speaking, Roger pretty much handles the humongous (former Red Lobster) Summer Avenue location, while Craig splits his duties between both Summer and Central.

And just as an extra slather of Cheese Whiz on this already delectable platter of nachos, Central BBQ also regularly hosts local musical acts to perform both on the outdoor patio at the Central Avenue location and the rockin’ back room of the Summer Avenue location. Be sure to check out their website or join their Facebook page for regular updates.

Craig summed up the Central BBQ philosophy in a recent Flipside Memphis interview as, “Spreading the love when it comes to barbeque and educating other people as to what real barbeque is.” But the coolest tidbit of all, as discovered while talking with Craig in preparation for this article (on my front porch, of course, since we’re neighbors and all), is that 30 years ago, he and I both used to hang out at their Central Avenue location back when it was Tony’s Pizza!

For more information, visit cbqmemphis.com.

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