Update: Ken's BBQ is now open
There’s a big smoker sitting out front of Charles Kendrick’s Afro-American Heritage Museum on South Park Avenue and the rich fragrance of smoked meats once again perfumes the air.
For the first time since Mr. K’s Barbecue closed shop in 2012, the small space at 1830 S. Park Ave. with a half-dozen tables and counter service is focusing on barbecue.
“We’re bringing back Southern style barbecue that’s been missing in Tucson,” Kendrick said Wednesday morning, as his partner and top chef Robert Lott chopped freshly smoked pork on a wooden cutting board in the kitchen.
Ken’s BBQ officially opens on Tuesday, May 2, but Kendrick, Lott and partner Arthur Platt have been quietly serving barbecue to anyone who comes in the door for the past handful of days.
The restaurant’s menu is centered on Texas-style mesquite-smoked beef, pork and chicken, with a handful of housemade Southern sides, including macaroni and cheese, candied yams and ranch beans. There’s also fried fish and fried chicken.
Lott, who has cooked in chain restaurants in Nebraska and at his grandmother’s restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana, said he plans to introduce more Southern fare as they go along.
Prices run $7.25 for sandwiches, with dinner entrees starting at $11.75. For a limited time, they are offering a trio of sliders for $4.99.
Ken’s BBQ is the first restaurant to occupy the corner space since the short-lived J and K Heritage Museum Cafe opened and closed in summer 2015. The space also was home to Olé Rico Mexican Steakhouse, which lasted a few months from late 2014 to early 2015; and a Caribbean restaurant made a short run in early 2013.
Kendrick opened Mr. K’s Barbecue in 1998. His son Ray ran the restaurant for nearly a decade until he renamed it the Original Mr. K’s BBQ and moved in summer 2012 further south to 6302 S. Park Ave.
A year earlier, the senior Kendrick opened a much-larger version of Mr. K’s in a former Chili’s restaurant on North Stone Avenue and East River Road near the Tucson Mall. The restaurant was open two years before closing in fall 2013.
Kendrick said he is confident Ken’s BBQ will do well, a sentiment echoed by Lott and Platt. Lott said the restaurant’s goal is to present authentic Texas-style barbecue — characterized by a more tomato-leaning sauce and wood smoking — and ensure that every diner leaves full.
“It’s like going to a family barbecue,” Kendrick, 85, said. “We’re going to give people what they want.”
“I’m very confident in us as a team,” Lott added. “I believe this is something that Tucson is really going to go for.”