Brian Grace was only coming by to get some gas. He wound up getting a whole restaurant instead. Grace, 40, who has won awards in barbecue contests and had some restaurant experience, was working …
Brian Grace was only coming by to get some gas. He wound up getting a whole restaurant instead.
Grace, 40, who has won awards in barbecue contests and had some restaurant experience, was working in Hoover and had been looking to get back into restaurants in Walker County. He had a home at Smith Lake and commercial real estate prices in Hoover were way too high.
One day about a month ago, he told himself, "I might have enough (gas) to get to P.J.'s," as a convenience store was next to the close restaurant. "I came over to get gas to get to work the next day." He said it was a matter of fate, as he usually did not come that way to and from work, as usually he headed in through Boldo.
In that visit, he found out about the availability of P.J.'s, which is also in Pineywoods at 33080 Highway 69. The building has about 3,500 square feet, counting the kitchen and P.J.'s Dairy Bar. The restaurant, in all its dining space, seats 167.
That conversation led to a two-hour Saturday conversation three weeks ago with the owner and a new lease for the facilities. He made the arrangements to lease the following Monday and soon quit the Hoover job.
As a result, after about three weeks of morning-to-night renovation and preparations, P.J.'s Restaurant & BBQ is ready to open Friday night after a three-year shutdown, employing about eight people on the average.
"I want to get it back to where P.J.'s was originally," said Grace, who is a Jasper native. "It was the heart of the community. Everybody came to P.J.'s."
Grace said the restaurant was established in 1991 by Jerome and Pat McClendon. Since they closed it three years ago, the facility has sat vacant.
"Jerome really wants it open, and so he will help me any way we can to get it going," Grace said.
McClendon will stop by to greet guests at the tables and offer his well-regarded secret steak sauce to be used - although he will continue to make the sauce, as its ingredients are still known only to the McClendons and their son.
"He'll make it for me, but he won't tell me how to make it," he said with a laugh.
He also noted a friend of his, Josh Garrison, who lived on Highway 195, died in 2018. "We always wanted to do something like this," he said, pausing to collect his emotions. "I'm going to use his white barbecue sauce."
The facility was in excellent shape, especially on the interior. The sides outside were stained, and new LED lighting with different colors will light up some of the building at night. A deep clean was given to the inside over a short three-week period, using extra help. The health inspection gave the standard inspection release that only notes it was opened, but Grace was proud that when he asked what the normal monthly grade would have been, the inspector said only a couple of points would have been taken off, to give him a score of 98.
"The thing I am excited about is that Sunday we will have a hot bar. We'll offer five meats and 12 vegetables, maybe more vegetables" depending on circumstances, Grace said. "The common stuff that will be up there will be your fried chicken and dressing." Other options over time would be smoked pork tenderloin (which will be offered this Sunday), meat loaf, fried fish, steak and gravy, hamburger steak and gravy, and eventually some chicken livers. He said he would be open to what people request.
The Sunday hot bar will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The meat and three vegetables will include a drink and will sell for $9.99, in order to get it below $10. The menu will be on Facebook and on the dry eraser board.
The daily menu will include his USDA-certified Angus beef steaks and hand-battered catfish which is U.S. farm-raised, with competitive prices. Grilled chicken will also be offered.
He will also offer his award-winning competition barbecue. A salad bar will be in place to go with meals, with special salads featuring briskets, barbecue and grilled chicken to be on sale.
"It will be smoked for a long time over a wood fire," he said. "It will be injected and seasoned." He is also offered brisket, which he won first place on in competition.
He is also offering something he considers rare for the area: A 32-ounce ribeye called the Red Beard Special, with six grilled shrimp, and order of pig candy, a salad and a baked potato, for $49.99. (Pig candy, by the way, is bacon that is sliced into cubes and smoke, seasoned. He said many have loved it when he caters.)
Sandwiches will be offered, including the Bigfoot Sandwich, a full barbecue sandwich with a full chicken breast and a full order brisket on Texas toast with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, for $14.95.
A nice banquet room, featuring a gas-log fireplace, is offered in the back with seating for 70 to 80, with salad bar available. It is available to rent for special events all week, although it will also be used for spill-over seating.
P.J.'s Dairy Bar, which was offered in the 1980s or so, will be reopened for soft serve ice cream (including waffle cones), shakes, sundaes, banana splits and root beer floats. Hamburgers and chicken fingers, as well as anything else on the restaurant menu, will be offered as takeout, as the Dairy Bar has no seating. That will allow people to pick up any food without having to go into the restaurant.
To go barbecue party packs will be available to feed four, eight, 12 and 16 people.
For kids, steak tips and french fries will be available. They will also get a free ice cream cone with a kids meal. Catering and pre-order, as well as gift certificates, will be available.
Hours for now will be 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday on the Dairy Bar, while the restaurant will be open Thursday and Friday 4-9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Dairy Bar could possibly have extended hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day, possibly to seven days a week.
Grace said he thinks the restaurant has an excellent prospects. "Within 10 miles in either direction, there is no food. The Frost Front is the closest," he said. As for the Smith Lake area, he said the dam is two miles down the road.
Anyone wanting more information may call the restaurant at 205-221-5772 or go to its Facebook page.