RIVER VALLEY and OZARK AREA Brother’s BBQ in Heber Springs has an atmosphere similar to most barbecue joints in Arkansas - the inviting smoky smell of slow-cooked pork, familiar sauce squeeze bottles on the tables, andplastic trays of ribs and pulled pork sandwiches delivered from the kitchen with asmile and a refill of iced tea. But Larry Cordell’s story is anything but typical.
Cordell, originally from Newport and manager of the family-owned business, had several careers before he began the barbecue business 22 years ago. After the Dallas-based airline for which he worked closed because of financial difficulties, he relocated his family to Memphis for another aviation opportunity.
Cordell’s family traveled e ver y we ekend to Heb er Springs for the beauty and recreation, so when an opportunity arose to purchase a tool franchise in the area, Cordell seized the chance, yet the venture proved to be “a total disaster.”
A silver lining led him to the popular Eden Isle Marina. Cordell and his co-workers at the marina started spicing up their weekend work hours by hauling out a grill and feeding themselves, customers and friends who stopped in. The impromptu picnic supper excited the potential time-share patrons of the new Eden Isle, so resort proprietors started contributing funds to continue and expand the spread to include frog legs, crab and shrimp to accompany Cordell’s pork butt and ribs.
Prospective buyers saw the big weekly celebration anddecided that Eden Isle was “the happening place.”
Word of Cordell’s reputation spread to two wealthy brothers who had purchased a barbecue restaurant on a whim, calling it Brother’s BBQ. With no experience and ready for their annual winter trip to Florida, the brothers began looking for a buyer for the restaurant. A friend brought them to Larry, but with no funding or restaurant experience, Cordell declined the offer.
“Two or three days later, it was close to November (1989),” he said. “They came up, tossed me the keys andsaid, ‘You’re in the restaurant business.’”
The brother-owners left Cordell a modest sum to turn on the utilities, change ownership papers and pay for his first food order. An inexperienced Cordell and his family pitched in and made an unlikely success of Brother’s BBQ.
“A lot of my success is due to fishermen,” Cordell said. “I was a fishing guide for a long time, so I printed my menu on the reverse side of a map of the lake. After their orders came out, I would go over, flip the menu and mark all the hot places on the lakeand what time they should be there for the best catch.”
A fire 14 years later destroyed the restaurant, as well as Cordell’s championship fishing trophies and autographed souvenirs from celebrity restaurant patrons such as Mi ke Huckab e e, Waylon Jennings and Travis Tritt.
While settling insurance claims and investigating the benefits of rebuilding or relocating, Cordell and his 78-year-old mother, Billie, operated a concession trailer for 2 1/2 years on a shoestring budget.
“I ended my prayers each night with ‘Lord, help me get out of this trailer; please help me get out of this trailer,’” Cordell said.
He continued his story, relating a few coincidences that led him to the developer of the property where hisrestaurant is now.
“ The L ord has done a lot of miracles in my life,” Cordell said.
When he went to the owner and told her he had been praying to get out of the trailer, the developer said, “That’s funny; I have been praying, ‘Lord, get me out of this restaurant.’”
So with a few tears and a handshake, Cordell and his family got out of theconcession trailer and into a fully equipped restaurant, answering the prayers of two people.
Cordell strives to return his good fortune to the community by using all Mondays after three-day holidays to hold benefits for deserving groups, varying from first responders to ill children.
“Larry is Mr. Barbecue; he is to Heber Springs what the Rendezvous is to Memphis.” fellow businessman and community volunteer Maurice Lipsey, owner of the Fat Possum Hollow fishing camp, said of Cordell. “And he’s a pretty good fishing guide, too.”
Cordell said he doesn’t put one drop of sauce or grain of seasoning on his meat before he prepares an order. He won’t even consider sharing any secrets of his homemade rub or sauce recipes, but heconceded to share his coleslaw recipe, voted best coleslaw regionally a few years ago. It is a bulk recipe, probably best used in a group setting.
A trip to Brother’s BBQ, 301 Southridge Blvd. in Heber Springs, might just create a miracle in your life - your barbecue life, that is.
BROTHER’S BBQ’S FAMOUS MAYO COLESLAW Ingredients: 50-pound bag of cabbage 2 bunches of carrots Dressing: 1 quart buttermilk 8 cups mayonnaise 1 small packet Hidden Valley Ranch dry mix 1 cup sugar Directions:
Mix all dressing ingredients with a wire whisk or mixer until smooth. Chill while preparing the cabbage and carrots.
Shred the cabbage and carrots. Combine.
Mix the chilled dressing with the cabbage and carrots.
Once combined completely, chill the slaw for at least 30 minutes before serving for the flavors to combine.