Uncle Tom's Barbecue is opening up its second location today, in Hialeah.
The restaurant, which has been serving ribs and chicken to Miamians since 1948, will officially open its doors at 2200 Palm Ave. with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. City of Hialeah mayor Carlos Hernandez, along with Dennis Fantis (son of Uncle Tom's founder, Tom Fantis), will do the honors of officially marking the grand opening.
Uncle Tom's Ariel Rodriguez said that opening a Hieleah location "wasn't in the plans", until an act of sheer fate happened.
The Uncle Tom's co-owner explained that he was at the restaurant's still-to-open Pinecrest location waiting for a work crew when a car pulled up in front of the worksite. "This man pulls up and asks me if I would like to open a restaurant in Hialeah. I was already opening this second location, but I took his card and talked it over with my wife. I went and checked out the place and I saw the vision of what could be done. We moved in, we converted the space, and we made it happen in about four weeks."
Who, by the way, was that mystery man in the Mercedes? Rodriguez laughs. "That's my landlord, Carlos Perez. The guy is awesome. He facilitated the deal for me to come in and really worked with us."
Rodriguez said the current Hialeah location was, in fact, too modern for the Uncle Tom's brand. "It was so brand new, we had to rough it up a bit to make it look rustic. We painted the outside red, black, and white, added tables made from palates, changed out the light fixtures, and put in a barbecue pit."
The Hialeah restaurant's menu will also feature Uncle Tom's signature recipes, something that Rodriguez and his executive chef, Pedro Valdes, brought back to the historic restaurant when they reopened the original location back in 2014. "The past owners changed the recipe to cater to the neighborhood, but in doing so, the identity was lost and he lost the real customers who enjoyed the authentic barbecue experience. When I closed on the restaurant in 2013, chef Valdes said he wanted to bring back the restaurant's original flavors."
Rodriguez said he wants to honor the history of Uncle Tom's. "Back when Tom Fantis opened his restaurant, it was pretty much the last stop before Naples and the West Coast. Celebrities ate here when they wanted a break from Miami Beach. Tom Fantis was a pioneer in this city and we have to preserve the history. I tell his son, Dennis, that this place will be here long after we're all gone."
As for future plans for Uncle Tom's? Rodriguez says that the Pinecrest restaurant should open by the end of March. After that? Look for a few more locations, possibly in Weston, Pembroke Pines, West Kendall, or Miami Beach.
Uncle Tom's in Hialeah will close today at 3 p.m. for the ribbon cutting and private reception, but will open tomorrow for lunch at 11 a.m. The restaurant is open Monday - Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 11 p.m.
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