Featured Business: I Am BBQ, A strange name worth trying.
When I saw the sign for the new barbecue joint in the small shopping center near Atwoods on Taft, I reacted the same way you did: What kind of name is “I Am BBQ?” And the next thought was, Does Sapulpa really need a fifth barbecue joint?
I didn’t even consider trying it until a Facebook friend posted how awesome they were. Then another, this time with photos of ribs, and they made my mouth water, so my wife and I tried it.
Y’all, the moment I took my first bite of an I Am BBQ’s rack of ribs, I became a believer. When you meet Bryan and Crystal Powell and hear their story, you’ll become one too.
Bryan Powell has been smoking meat on the same grill for 25 years, which he inherited from his father, who had it only 5 or so years before that. In all that time, he has never made a single change to the smoker. “It busted a hinge, so I fixed that. We did have to replace the water box once in thirty years, but that is it. It’s a really well-made smoker.”
That grill has seen it’s share of adventure. Powell is a construction worker by trade, but a few years ago, began chasing the dream of selling his succulent smoked meats to the public, starting by dishing them out of the parking lot of the gas station at the junction on Hwy 33 and Hwy 66. “I hung around there with my smoker, but nobody was buying,” Powell said. Finally, he tried a new tactic: giving samples to the customers pumping gas. “I knew that if I could get it in their mouth, they’d love it and come back for more,” he said.
And come, they did. Soon, Bryan’s wife Crystal quit her job at another restaurant to haul the smoker around town, selling sandwiches out of the back of the Suburban. “I’d park at Sooner Tire, and the guys would come running. I’d park at Farmer’s Feed or Chieftain Corner, and we’d sell out every day,” she said. She began hauling the smoker out to surrounding locations too, going from Sand Springs to Jenks to Glenpool, and everywhere they went, the people came and their reputation grew.
They had to change gears when the state caught up with them. “We weren’t aware that you had these regulations in place for folks who serve food, even if we were just selling it out of the back of our car,” Crystal Powell said. As far as the city was concerned, they were essentially a Food Truck, an industry that has come under more scrutinization of late as it’s popularity has grown in downtown Tulsa. The Powells decided it was the perfect time to do what they’d always wanted to, anyway: open a restaurant.
They secured the space in their current location that had previously held two other restaurants. The job of getting it ready to open took an additional six months. Meanwhile, they were paying rent for renovations on a space that wasn’t making money, and it didn’t appear at first that they’d do well. “We opened May 11th, and we wondered if anyone would come,” Crystal Powell said. The strange name didn’t help that much. On social media, people were poking fun at it before having tried the food.
As the few more adventurous diners tried them out, word began to spread. Customers were drawn to the hearty flavor, the full portions with not-that-full prices. Crystal Powell says it’s only fair. “If I serve you a sandwich for $7.99, I want you to be full,” she said. By the second week of July, they were making money, and business has continued to grow ever since.
Bryan Powell says that the secret to the success is a tradition of doing things the right way, with a mix of mystery in the flavors. He’ll happily tell you that he smokes his meat fresh every night for 14 hours, using three or four kinds of wood, and that they cut no corners. “Other restaurants, they’ll smoke it less or make a lot more so it’s not as fresh,” he said. Powell says he’d rather run out of food—which happens almost every day—than serve sub-standard meat to his customers. “If you do it well and do it right, they will keep coming back.”
A very popular choice among customers is a 4-meat combo that comes with two sides a toast, which can easily feed 2-3 people, for only $14.99. If you’re taking your family, we’d recommend that. If you’re stopping by for lunch, try the Triple Crown sandwich, a toasted bun piled six or seven inches high with rib meat, smoked bologna and your choice of link. I AM BBQ also has turkey specials on Tuesdays and chicken specials on Thursdays. See their Facebook Page for more details.
Address: 808 E. Taft
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 11am – 8pm
Website: None yet, but it’s coming!