By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
MIZPAH â€“ After operating the first year in 2020 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic serving customers who have grown used to stopping by the location known as Uncle Dewey’s barbecue for the past 25 years, Rick Gray rightfully said he wants to create his own legacy.
Gray and Rick’s Backyard Barbecue and Grill, at 6931 Route 40 in Atlantic County, will have a big chance to do just that possibly next month when they are expected to get a visit from internationally-known celebrity chef Guy Fieri and the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Gray said he was almost left speechless when a diner who visited his popular outdoor pit twice revealed himself to be a producer with one of the Food Network’s signature shows and expressed his interest to do an episode at the location.
“I was left with my mouth open,” Gray told Front Runner New Jersey.com over the weekend. “I couldn’t believe it. He was here two weeks earlier to eat. The next time he brought his wife and asked to smell the aroma from my grill. That’s when he told me he was from the Food Network.”
Gray said the producer said the network was ranking him No. 5 for the best barbecue in the state. He said he expects the episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” will be shot next month and then the three-month lag time before it actually hits the airwaves in the fall.
The driver for New Jersey Transit who got his start cooking barbecue in his own backyard, said he feels vindication over any concerns that he would be able to maintain the barbecue tradition at the location.
“I do feel vindicated,” Gray said. “I feel like I didn’t let anyone down. I kept my standards high. Sure, you have to wait a little but you’re getting fresh food and come out great each time. That’s my thing.”
Everything from delicious ribs, moist brisket, all the sauces to the newly added turkey legs are made to his taste for the public. That “taste” has won Gray a lot of publicity over the summer, to articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer, take out from the Press of Atlantic City and story on WPVI-TV (Channel 6) in Philadelphia.
He admits the potential of the Food Network exposure is more than he imagined, along with now feeding a growing number of fans on the weekends.
“Man, I can’t sleep at night,” Gray said with a laugh on one Saturday evening, where he ran out of chicken, macaroni-and-cheese and collard greens. “I wonder how am I going to feed all of these people? Every week I pick up an extra four boxes and still run out.”
Gray said he is pleased that his loyal customers have shown their willingness to wait for their specially-cooked meals, but like most restaurants slowly coming off the coronavirus pandemic, Gray is looking for workers.
“We are hiring,” said Gray, adding that he is eager to make hires for order takers and food prepares to speed up getting food to customers. “I could use the help. They can call me any time.”
One of the things Gray said he hopes the Food Network and others visiting his outdoor restaurant will pickup on is the laid back, friendly nature of the Rick’s Backyard, which has become a gathering place for locals to meet new people. Just about any time, customers will find local fans chatting in the back well after their meals.
“That’s what the backyard is all about,” Gray said. “It’s about family, friends and neighbors coming around. I love to see people come in, say ‘Hi Rick’ and we go back and chop it up with them. We let people sit back and enjoy themselves as if they were sitting at home.
“You come here not knowing anybody but leaving knowing about 15 other people because we’re all sitting here together having a good time. That’s what the backyard is all about.”
Gray said he is looking forward to sharing just that with the Food Network. He said he will reveal the date as soon as he knows any new developments.
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