Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sole Survivor of a Former Chain - Gridley's

I can remember a time when Gridley’s BBQ was a major player in the local barbecue scene with locations all over town. Now they are down to just one location at the intersection of Stage and Summer in Bartlett. I remember eating and enjoying a lot of Gridley’s while I was growing up, but it’s probably been 20 years since I’ve eaten their barbecue so I couldn’t remember any details about what to expect. If anyone knows the full saga of Gridley's rise and fall from local prominence I'd love to hear it. 

 The remaining location is in the middle of a strip mall and looks deceptively small. Based on the exterior I was expecting a small, carry-out dominated place. But the dining room is a lot more spacious than the exterior would lead one to believe. The menu includes a lot of creative uses of barbecue, including an impressive sounding barbecue burrito along with more standard variations like barbecue nachos and barbecue spaghetti. Also, while I didn’t sample the restaurant’s massive onion rings, I saw several orders being delivered to other tables and they looked amazing.

What I ordered was a chopped pork and pork ribs dinner combo with hot barbecue sauce. It delivered a lot of food for the $13.99 asking price. The chopped pork was solidly good Memphis average. The extremely tender ribs were the star of the show. They had a dark-pink smoke line, juicy well-rendered fat and an excellent flavor. The hot sauce provided a great compliment to the meat. It had a definite kick, but without the intense burn of the sauce at places like Cozy Corner and Reggi's.

The slaw had a nice vinegar twang and the beans were meaty and rich. I was really impressed with the attention to detail that was evident in all the sides. The bread that came with the dinner looked so different from anything I’ve seen at any other barbecue places that I had to try a couple bites. It was light and fluffy yet buttery and yeasty and I’m sure it would be very easy to devour an entire serving.  

The walls were covered with the type of local memorabilia that is common for Southern barbecue restaurants. By far the coolest thing hanging on the wall was a framed copy of the local daily paper, The Commercial Appeal, from January 1, 1940. To celebrate the paper’s 100th anniversary the staff had artists put together a massive front-page spread for the New Year’s edition that predicted what the next 100 years was going to bring for the city. The headline read “Will the Memphis of 100 years from now look like this?” above detailed, hand-drawn, art deco images of pre-WWII visions of the city’s future. 

The old newspaper was hard to photograph due to glare from inside the restaurant but fascinating to behold in person. 

Highlights included skyscrapers along Madison Avenue between Main and Third connected by a network of elevated sidewalks that kept pedestrians above the ground-level traffic. A giant airport on Mud Island included special bases for the Zeppelins coming in from Europe and the sea planes landing on the river. Mud Island also had a massive fire-belching industrial plant making synthetic chemical products out of the area’s cotton harvests. There was a superhighway crossing above Poplar and Highland that rivaled anything in Los Angeles or Dallas-Forth Worth. Interestingly, the paper predicted a new bridge over the Mississippi River in almost exactly the same spot where the Hernando de Soto Bridge actually opened over 30 years later in 1973. But the artist rendering showed a flat, elevated structure without the iconic double arches of the later real-life bridge.  

Zeppelin travel never took off in Europe the way people thought it would.

I’d love to know if The Commercial Appeal staff has a copy of the centennial front page in their archives and if there is any way to get a full-size print of it. I’m sure I’m not the only Memphian who would want a framed copy on my own wall. Attempting to find a copy online did lead me to a book, published in 1940, titled One Hundred Years of The Commercial Appeal that I was compelled to buy.
Gridley's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon


  1. We used to eat carry out at the Winchester location all the time on Fridays. Not sure what happened either. Seemed like they started to fade away sometime around the late 90's.

  2. I lived down in memphis for 5 years. Hands down Gridley's had the best sauce of any bbq place down there. I could literally use 1/2 a bottle on a single bbq sandwich it was so delicious. I tried to get a gallon jug of the sauce shipped up to Maine about 8 years ago and it never came. I gave them my CC # over the phone and told em I don't care how much it costs, bill me whatever and they said they would ship me a gallon jug via fedex :( I'm kinda considering giving them a call again to see if they will do it now :) That sauce is the bomb :)

  3. If you want gridleys sauce call 901 377 8055 they say on the bottle they wills ship it overnight. This from the bottle at the gridleys resturant

  4. The saga:

    Clyde Gridley was an operator of one of the old Loeb's Barbecues. Loeb's was a very big chain in the 50s and 60s. The family started with a laundry business and is now into real estate. They produced one Memphis mayor, Henry Loeb III.

    Clyde decided to go his own way around the same time the Loeb family was exiting barbecue and he bought one of their existing locations (anyone who wants to see what a Loeb's looked like can visit Three Pigs BBQ at Quince and White Station. It is virtually unchanged from the time it was a Loeb's). From there Clyde moved down Summer to a location in French Village. That location revolutionized Memphis BBQ.

    I went to high school with the Gridley daughters in the 70s at Kingsbury. The restaurant had waiters, tablecloths etc. which was revolutionary at that time. It also had very very good barbecue. Jim Neely of Interstate Barbecue still talks about having to drive "out east" to get a decent barbecue at Gridley's. The real fact is that Memphis BBQ died out largely in the 70s and Gridley's brought it back.

    Sadly, Clyde Gridley died in a car wreck. It was in the very late 70s or early 80s. The restaurant was sold after his death to interests that decided to turn it into a chain. The chain was unsuccessful and there have been several owners since then trying to keep the chain alive, but the heyday of Gridley's was in the 70s.

    The matriarch of the clan died last year. Last I heard one of her daughter's, JoAnn is a manager at The Germantown Commissary.

    1. Very informative. Thanks for all the info.

    2. There was a Gridley's in Jackson, Miss. Must've been started in the mid to late 70's. I moved away and every time I returned home, I had to stop by Gridley's. Other BBQ places came and went in Jackson that probably put a dent in Gridley's business. But Gridley's managed to hang on until the mid 00's. Then it too went away. In fact I'd say it was "gone" for ten years before that.

    3. Mr. Gridley would roll over if he tasted their ribs today, maybe too much competition. Back in the day when on Summer Avenue no one could come close to their ribs. Now they can't make the top ten list.

    4. Clyde Gridley had a Heart Attack around midnight after working all day & closing up his restaurant on Summer Ave for the night, which caused his car to wreck. The Heart Attack is what killed him. as he was driving home....early 80's. He worked on his receipes while he was @ Loebs on Poplar & Tillman around 72 ...would call us to come sample them until he was satisfied he had it just right the way he wanted it. Then he had his Grand Opening on Summer. We all were invited, everyone was dressed, really dressed as Southern Ladies did back then! And it was
      'Grand, really Grand' The Best Food & certainly not just a BBQ place,
      it was a nice full service restaurant & professionally decorated.
      The small place in Bartlett on Stage Rd has the same receipes and
      Clyde Gridley is a Memphis Legend !

  5. I think Clyde Gridley had a massive heart attack while driving which lead to the wreck. I will never forget breakfast at Gridley's on Summer and they would bring freshly baked biscuits until you stopped them. Also, I remember the pictures of Clyde's race horses on the wall.

  6. I am the granddaughter of Clyde Gridley. And I can vouch for everything that Mr. Russell Johnson has stated.

    After Clyde's death the family didn't feel they could continue to keep the business going without him. They just didn't have time to learn everything they needed to know.

    Yes, he did die from a car wreck brought on by a heart attack. And yes he loved horse racing.

    Anything anyone would like to know, I'd love to talk about this subject. I'm one of the younger grandchildren of the Gridley's, so I only know of second hand accounts but would love to hear everyone's stories. I only ever met Celeste (my grandmother) but never my grandfather Clyde.

  7. I am his Great Niece. And he would not enjoy the Gridley's that hangs his picture in their restaurant today...I remember he required the BEST ingredients. the BEST quality meats and everything else, and had the BEST BBQ I ever tasted and made all his recipes from scratch...I did not know my Aunt died....Blessings to the Family!

  8. I was a bartender at the Summer Ave Gridley's in the early 80s. Joann Gridley, Franklin Myles, Livingston Vann Thomas, and Paulette Coburn worked there, too. Best BBQ in Memphis.