Charles Gray had a dream 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, their daughter Kim calls the shots.
When Kim Gray took over in 2011 after her father suffered a stroke, The Rib Crib needed some new flare, including on its 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 No. 1 item? As always, a slab of ribs.
“We make the [barbeque] sauce every Wednesday with raw ingredients and no preservatives,” Gray said. “Every week, fresh meat is ordered and delivered.”
What separates The Rib Crib from other barbeque joints is a rich history both in the kitchen and on the walls.
Most of the photos hanging inside 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,” said Gray of a business only open from Thursday to Saturday. “Daddy always said that ribs were a weekend food. Who goes out for ribs on a Monday or a Tuesday night? It has worked for my dad. It’s a lot of work for those three days.”
Grab and go
The Rib Crib isn’t a sit-down restaurant. Gray’s motto is simple: get your food and go home, a take-out only policy that has stood since herthe elder Gray roamed the kitchen. (Sometimes, though, customers sit on the sidewalk to eat.)
Gray remembers her father taking big steps to organize the crowd lining up outside.
“This place used to be so packed that Daddy would have to stand with a blow horn and call numbers,” Gray said. “People were all up and down the sidewalk. This place would be full.”
In the early 2000s, 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.”
The kitchen crew uses paintbrushes to coat pork, chicken and other meats with the secret barbeque sauce, and an open-pit oven to smoke them.
The Rib Crib also built a reputation for lending a helping hand, as 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,” his daughter said. “He has paid for graduations, stopped foreclosures, [and put up money for] funerals, weddings and everything.”
Gray remembers her father using the Crib’s power washer to different parts of Germantown and washing graffiti off the 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, distributing left-over ribs and chicken to local shelters and facilities in Germantown.
“I was raised with the notion that what goes around comes around,” Gray said. “If you do good, you get good. If you do bad, you get bad.”
Getting its original mojo back
During its heyday, it used to order more than 120 cases of meat every week.
During the recent economic downturn, however, business dropped to 20 cases a week. Today, orders are up to nearly 40 cases a week.
“We stood the test of time,” Kim Gray said. “On average, 80 percent of restaurants close within three years. We are going on 44, and we are still here.”
David Grzybowski is a La Salle University student who writes for GermantownBeat, a local student-produced news site. NewsWorks features articles from GermantownBeat on its Northwest Philadelphia community sites and contributes multimedia journalism training to the program.