As noted a few posts back, reading Craig Meek’s book “Memphis Barbecue” got me thinking about the oldest continuously operating pit in the city. From what I already knew about the Tops chain, launched in 1952, it was my first pick for the title, but which one? This isn’t 100 percent authoritative, because I haven’t heard back from the folks at Tops after a couple of letters and phone calls, and the usual timeline sources aren’t definitive, either, but my choice is this one
The main determinant here is the company’s designation of it as #4, and the first three no longer exist. The assessor’s office gives a date of 1955 for this building — which looks nothing like any other Tops, mainly like a house that was converted into a restaurant. Here’s a rundown of the usual phone book/city directory suspects from the 1950s, starting with the 1955 phone list for cue shops
Lots of great names there; just a few ghost pits remaining. The 1956 city directory for the address shows this
Finally, Tops shows up in the 1958 phone book (maybe in 1957, but the library doesn’t have a 1957 book) with the first three
As noted, they’re all gone, but here’s what they looked like within the past 3-4 years (Macon, Park, then Jackson). Park and Jackson were in previous posts, burned and demolished, respectively
The 1960 city directory shows the Rhodes shop, along with the one on Thomas
The Rhodes store is pretty small, but was doing a steady business the day I stopped in. It has been spiffed up with a patio, but no drive-thru, just the old-school walk up window
The pit is showing its age after 50-plus years of service,
but it still gets the job done in fine fashion.
So there’s my nominee. I hope I’ll hear from the Tops folks at some point (hey, you can’t buy this kind of publicity). No prize to bestow, other than some business from time to time.
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CAVE’S SOUL FOOD & MORE: If you are a fan, as I am, and have been missing their smoked chicken, ribs, pot roast and burgers, you should be able to get a fix this week.
Yes, the restaurant has been closed, but it was planned, and for a good reason. Carl had knee surgery in early September, and was looking at a two-week recovery, so he and Veronica decided to take the entire month for a well-deserved vacation. You could probably count on one hand the number of days off they’ve taken since the restaurant opened more than three years ago.
Anyway, Carl said he would reopen Oct. 1. Stop in and welcome him back.
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TV NEELYS: Sorry to hear about the breakup; show biz is another universe, and I’m sure the pressures are great. You have to wonder if there will be any ripple effect back here. I haven’t seen anything about their former Memphis locations since the news a few months back that they wanted a loan to help them reopen (after that little matter of back taxes was resolved first). I think a show with Ms. Neely and Paula Deen could be interesting.