In the early 1990s, an old car wash sat vacant on Eatonton Road in Madison when Phillip and Sandra Crowe decided to take a leap of faith and transform the property into a modest barbecue restaurant.
In 1991, Crowe’s Bar-B-Que opened to the public, offering up a well-worn family barbecue recipe that began with Phillip’s grandfather. Thirty years later, Crowe’s Bar-B-Que is still here and still serving up the same tasty barbecue perfected nearly 70 years ago.
“Never in my life did I expect to cook barbecue here for 28 years,” said Phillip Crowe, who retired in 2019, passing the restaurant to his youngest son Ben Crowe and long-time employee Mason Carter. “Now my son and Mason are running it and we are so proud of how well they have done, carrying out everything we taught them over the years.”
“We have been excited and it’s been fun to grow the business in different ways, but we hold the same core values that my father passed on to us,” said Ben Crowe, who was born the year the restaurant first opened. “It’s been an exciting run so far. We are glad to have made it 30 years and we hope to make it to 60 years.”
“Our barbecue is history and tradition mixed with culinary arts,” said Mason Carter, 26, co-owner of Crowe’s Bar-B-Que. “It’s not just a recipe, but an experience to make it that takes mastery.” Carter, who worked for Phillip Crowe as a teenager, discovered his passion for cooking as a child, noting he preferred to watch cooking shows instead of Saturday morning cartoons.
“I would come home from school everyday and watch the Rachael Ray Show,” laughed Carter. “When I started working for Phillip he taught us everything we needed to know to keep the place going.”
For Ben, barbecue is a passion and artform.
“You might hear us say around here ‘If we could bottle that smell, we could quit working.’ That’s because we slow smoke all of our meat with hickory and pecan, along with a whole lot of time and love, to craft the most delicious meat you’ll ever put in your mouth.”
Ben and Mason are hoping to continue to grow Crowe’s Bar-B-Que’s old-fashioned cuisine with new methods. The pair utilized social media to enhance the restaurant’s presence online and spread the word near and far. And while the duo is focused on the restaurant, they still find ways to give back.
Currently Mason is running the restaurant while Ben is in Virginia at a military base helping feed Afghan refugees.
“He has a big heart and is always wanting to help,” said Mason.
When Ben returns, he will follow the same formula his father taught him to be successful.
According to Philip, Crowe’s Bar-B-Que has lasted for three decades due to three simple rules.
“I always said, we have to keep the place clean, the food should be the same every time, and we have to let each and every customer know how much we appreciate their business,” said Phillip.
Those are lessons that Ben and Mason took to heart and practice still to this day.
“It’s why we have been successful,” said Mason. “We were taught to keep the restaurant extraordinarily clean, to serve a consistent, quality product that is the same every time, and to show our customers how much we appreciate them. We are blessed that so many people love what we do and continue to support us.”
As history often repeats itself, Phillip took a risk 30 years ago to open the Crowe’s BBQ, and Ben and Mason would take a risk of their own, purchasing the business right before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
“We had just bought the place, and all of a sudden restaurants were shutting down all over,” said Mason. “We didn’t know if we were going to survive that.”
However, it didn’t take long for Ben and Mason to discover the local community would see them through the hardest times.
“It was scary for about two weeks, and then we got our game plan together to keep the business going and our customers and the local community really came through for us. And not just for us, but for our employees who are like family. Some are like second mothers to us,” said Mason. “At the end of the day, there was such an outpouring from the community and it was so touching that all these people came together. There were people I had never seen before eating at Crowe’s because they knew we were a locally-owned business and wanted to support us.”
“It’s the customers who make all this possible,” said Phillip. “After 30 years, many of our customers have become our friends. We have young adults with children who came in to eat when they were kids. That’s a special thing we have now.”
“We still tell our customers how much we appreciate them,” said Mason. “If you are not grateful to the people coming in to buy our barbecue then they are not going to come back. You have to have a grateful heart. We let people know we appreciate them every time, even if they come in every week.”