Charles Gray had a dream.
He dreamt of opening up his own barbeque place in Germantown. With that goal in mind and $1,600 in his family savings, Charles and Bessie Gray built The Rib Crib brick by brick.
Forty-four years later, the Germantown hot spot is still operating at 6333 Germantown Ave. But today, the Grays’ daughter, Kim Gray, is calling the shots.
When Kim Gray took over, The Rib Crib needed a new flare. She added new items to the already popular menu. Gray added grilled wings and new side dishes with macaroni and cheese, pound cake and collard greens. What was once a successful menu now has a total of 15 items compared to the original 11 when her father was in control.
The number one item? As always, a slab of ribs.
Barbeque- sauced ribs cost about $29 and feed up to four people. Two hungry people, though, can handle a slab together.
“We make the sauce every Wednesday with raw ingredients and no preservatives. Every week fresh meat is ordered and delivered,” Gray said.
What separates The Rib Crib from other barbeque joints is its rich history and its renown for quality.
History is not only in the kitchen but also on the walls. Most of the photos that cover the walls are of people who have eaten at The Rib Crib.
Actors Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks and comedian George Wallace have stopped by for a bite to eat. Some have returned for second helpings. “We have a reputation,” Gray said.
The Rib Crib is open three days a week from Thursday to Saturday. That’s it.
“Daddy always said that ribs were a weekend food. Who goes out for ribs on a Monday or a Tuesday night?” Gray said. “It has worked for my dad. It’s a lot of work for those three days.”
The Rib Crib isn’t a sit-down restaurant. Gray’s motto is simple: get your food and go home.
Sometimes customers sit on the sidewalk to eat. But the take-out-only policy has been around since her daddy was roaming the kitchen.
Gray remembers her father going out with a blow horn as he organized the crowd lining up on the sidewalk.
“This place used to be so packed that Daddy would have to stand with a blow horn and call numbers. People were all up and down the sidewalk. This place would be full,” Gray said.
In the early 2000’s, ABC’s Dan Rather did a video feature on Charles Gray and The Rib Crib. Days after the video showed on the news, people were lining up to get the best ribs in Philly.
“It took off from there,” Gray said.
“This has been called a hole in the wall and it’s been called a little spot in Germantown. But this little spot in Germantown is packed on a Saturday,” Gray said.
The cook crew uses paintbrushes to slap the secret barbeque sauce on pork, chicken and other meats and an open-pit oven to smoke them.
While The Rib Crib is know for its great food, it’s also built a reputation for lending a helping hand.
Charles Gray felt that giving back to his community was the right thing to do.
“Anybody who needed anything in the neighborhood, he was there. He has paid for graduations, stopped foreclosures, (and put up money for ) funerals, weddings and everything,” Gray said.
Gray remembers her father using the firm’s power washer to go to different parts of Germantown to wash off graffiti on walls.
“He was always the one that God has been so enormously gracious to him that he felt he had to give back. The more you give, the more you get,” Gray said.
Like her father, Gray gives back to the community as well. For instance, she distributes left over ribs and chicken to local shelters and facilities in Germantown.
“I was raised with the notion that what goes around comes around. If you do good, you get good. If you do bad you get bad,” Gray said.
The Rib Crib is getting its original mojo back after a slump a few years ago.
During its heyday, it used to order more than 120 cases of meat every week. During the recent economic downturn, business dropped to 20 cases a week. Kim Gray took over the business in 2011 after her father had a stroke. Today, orders are up to nearly 40 cases a week.
Slowly, the crib is starting to walk again.
“We stood the test of time. On average 80 percent of restaurants close within three years. We are going on 44 and we are still here,” Gray said.
(David Grzybowski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and 609-314-9102.)