Eating at Shorty’s Bar-B-Q (9200 S. Dixie Highway) is certainly tradition and almost religion for many Miamians. Often imitated but never duplicated, the restaurant is known for its log cabin style exterior and long picnic table seating inside. Oh, and some amazing hickory-cooked food that’s hard to beat.
Started in 1951 by Edward L. “Shorty” Allen, Shorty’s Bar-B-Q was the right idea, at the right place, at the right time. The restaurant burned to the ground in 1972 and was rebuilt two years later. In 1980, a new owner took over but didn’t mess with the recipe for success. And, for those that think pork ribs aren’t healthy, consider that Shorty is still going strong, alive and well in Stuart, FL at the age of 103.
Loyal patron, Lynn Bethards, has been eating here since the 1960s. She recalls, “Years ago, we went to our cottage in Georgia for a month. All we looked forward to was coming home to some Shorty’s Bar-B-Q. It was a tough month away.” She’s not alone. 19-year server Theresa McGrath says, “They always come back. I now serve the kids and grandkids of some of my early customers.” We did some quick math and Theresa has served over 500,000 meals during her days at Shorty’s. “It’s a wonderful job. You meet people from all walks of life here. Doctors, lawyers and roofers…and they all just sit next to each other and talk.”
“We’re a family place. It’s about community, good food and good people,” gushed Shorty’s General Manager Chuck Housen about the atmosphere. “The long tables are a big part, too. Once you sit next to someone, it’s only a matter of time before you introduce yourself.” Chuck tells me he and a few of his staff have been with Shorty’s for more than 30 years. “Half are 10-plus year employees and half of those are 20 year vets. And that means consistency and people who take pride in their work.”
Chuck continued, “I love when our regulars bring new people into our restaurant. They look around and aren’t sure, but within minutes they warm up to the place and love it.” He also talked about the pride he sees people take when they return to Shorty’s after a long absence and say “It’s still the same great place. Nothing has changed.”
Actually, that’s not entirely true. After the 1972 fire, Shorty was forced to put in gas-fired pits. It took about 10 years before they were allowed to go back to the hickory wood cooking. “The 100% hickory cooking makes a big difference in taste. We have it shipped down from north Florida even though our costs have gone way up,” says Chuck, “but it’s well worth it.”
Shorty’s business is still growing. They make about 8000 meals a week. Chuck also reports this 4th of July was the best day and long weekend they’ve ever had. If you’re thinking about long-distance shipping, you’d better just drive down and pick it up yourself. “We don’t ship food, but we’ve sent our sauce as far away as London.”
It might be surprising to learn that Shorty’s sells more chicken than ribs. “The chicken lunch special is our #1 seller. But, if you combine both types of our ribs together then we sell more ribs by weight than chicken,” explains Housen.
One more fact about Shorty. He was a bit stubborn about his menu back then. He refused to sell desserts and if you wanted chicken and ribs you needed to buy two meals. Thankfully, now you have the combo meal choice.