If you’ve traveled up Georgia Hwy 92 from Fayetteville towards Fairburn, you’ve likely driven right by Uncle Frank’s BBQ and never even noticed. In fact, unless you’ve stopped at the Chevron gas station where Frank Bell and Leonard Harris have set up shop for close to two years, you probably have missed it altogether. As anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to find this restaurant can tell you, that is a big mistake and one that should be remedied as soon as possible.
Bell has been barbecuing all his life and he has picked up knowledge, recipes, secrets and tips from family members at weekly barbecues and family reunions that continue to serve him today. He is responsible for smoking all the meat that is served at Uncle Frank’s, a process that for some items, like their signature brisket, can take up to 30 hours. The result is meat so tender Bell likes to say “you don’t even need to teeth to eat it.”
Bell’s partner at the restaurant, Harris, does the rest of the cooking and it is all done from scratch. Harris was a chef at hotels out in California before hooking up with Bell and when Bell came out to Georgia to be with his family and start a new venture, Harris said ‘you aren’t leaving without me.”
The two had worked together and owned successful restaurants out in California and everywhere they went it seemed like they had the recipe for success to attract customers. They learned a lot about the restaurant business with their ventures (Frank’s son is running the restaurant in San Jose) especially the lesson that they would both rather be in the kitchen.
Uncle Frank’s brisket is extremely popular with their loyal fan base, as are their ribs, thanks in part to the slow cooking of all the meats and a homemade sauce that many feel deserves to be on shelves nationwide. Harris stated that the sauce starts with a case of tomatoes that gets cooked down but refuses to divulge any of the other ingredients. He did coin a description that seems right on the money though: “the most tongue waggin’, foot tappin’ lip smackin’ BBQ you’ll ever taste.”
The restaurant also offers chicken and homemade beef links every day and then has daily specials that change week to week.
“We don’t want to get bogged down with only offering certain items on a certain day,” said Bell.
Among the items offered at various times as specials are catfish, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, pork chops and bayou soup. The gumbo that used to be a special is now so popular it is on the menu every day. The gumbo is so chockful of ingredients like sausage, chicken, shrimp and scallops, among other items, that each spoonful seems like a meal in itself.
Harris is also extremely proud of his sides which can all be considered vegetarian as no meat product is used in their preparation. One could make a meal from items like the cajun creamed corn, red beans and rice, country greens, potato salad, baked beans and mac and cheese. The saffron dirty rice features some chicken and it is so light and flavorful that it might just make some vegetarians change their minds. The sides, like the desserts and the sauces, are all made from scratch. It can take a lot of time and patience but for guys as laid back and friendly as Bell and Harris, it isn’t a problem.
“We don’t rush anything,” said Bell, adding that a pot of sauce can take between eight and 10 hours to make.
Their easy-going attitude has also played a big part in attracting a fan base that swears by them and their food. People just popping in to the gas station to pick up a lottery ticket or a soda will often find themselves stopping by the counter at Uncle Frank’s for a free sample of their wares.
“I just tell them, it tastes better than it smells and to come try some,” said Harris. What starts as a free sample, turns into a conversation which turns into a sale and that sale makes that customer a regular for life.
Not only has their food and fellowship forged friendships, it has allowed them to open up this restaurant and stay open during times that other restaurants would not have survived.
“In culinary school, they tell you the first rule of opening a restaurant is location, location, location,” said Harris, obviously alluding to their small space inside the Chevron. “The second rule is don’t open in the fall or winter. We opened in October.”
The operation in Georgia started with three cases of ribs, some brisket and some chickens. They were cooking in a nearby parking lot before they found their current space and, thanks to a lot of help from friends and family, kept their doors open.
“There’s a lot of people to thank,” Bell said. “Carl Stephens and Kim from the Jon Branson Auto Center, Sikandar “Alex” Nathani of the Chevron and C.J. Jaucian, we couldn’t have done any of this without them.”
Bell also had special thanks for his sister, Pamela Range-Kellum. “She does everything behind the scenes and we are so grateful.”
Range-Kellum is happy to have her brother close by and hopes that the business will continue to grow so that the entire family can work there.
“It was Pam’s idea for me to move to Georgia, be close to the family and start a family restaurant,” said Bell. Range-Kellum added that she was very impressed with how well things were going and with her brother’s positive attitude during their slow start.
“We’ve never met a stranger,” Harris said, describing their view of customer service. The service seems so familial that one customer remarked that “you’ll be calling him ‘Uncle Frank’ before you’re through asking for seconds.”
Uncle Frank’s BBQ is closing in on their two year anniversary this October and it’s hard not to see great things on the horizon for the little store with the big taste.
Uncle Frank’s BBQ is located at 1488 Hwy 92 in Fayetteville. They are open 12-7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 12-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. They are closed Sunday and Monday. Uncle Frank’s BBQ can cater any occasion. Phone 404-749-7771 or 678-879-6559, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.unclefranksbbq.com for more information.