To the north of Cooper-Young is The Bar-B-Q Shop, which is identifiable by the dancing pigs on the windows. The first thing that hits you when you enter is the aroma of spiced hickory—smokiness that is part of the Memphis barbeque trinity. You need it, says co-owner Eric Vernon, to deepen the sweetness and balance the vinegary twang. Frank Vernon, Eric’s father, has been here for over 30 years, making the peppery, deep-red sauce, manning the pit. “We make 40 gallons of sauce a week,” says Eric, who works to the sound of Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays. It’s a Memphis mix, but also a nod to the restaurant’s history. Originally located on South Parkway East and nearby Stax Records, it was a popular lunch spot for visiting and local musicians.
“To this day, James Alexander comes in all the time,” Eric says, referring to The Bar-Kays founder and bass player. “Sometimes, he even takes me out to his car and says, ‘Hey, listen to this.’”
Back in the day, the restaurant was called Brady & Lil’s. Brady Vincent (a.k.a. Mr. Brady) taught Frank Vernon everything he knows about barbecue. Simple lessons that are easy to screw up: Cook your product slow; make hickory wood your friend, but don’t let it overpower the meat. Then, Mr. Brady retired and Frank took over. Eric grew up working alongside his dad. Talk to them together, and they’ll say how great a bonding experience that was, father and son toiling around a barbecue pit. Get them alone, and it’s basically the same story, but with a bit more head-shaking. Frank was looking to retire when Eric finished his marketing MBA at the University of Memphis. Eric said he’d give the shop a year. That was back in 2001.