Co-owner of Honey Bear’s BBQ looks back at legacy of central Phoenix site ahead of closing
Mar 1, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 10:53 am
PHOENIX — Near the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Thomas Road in Phoenix is a simple red and white A-frame restaurant sandwiched between towering high-rise buildings.
Outside, there’s a bustling street with cars, light rail lines and plenty of other businesses. Inside, it’s like a time capsule that has hardly changed from the day it opened.
The interior has bright red walls and plastic tabletops covered in ads from local businesses, with a big, somewhat faded logo in the middle that reads “Honey Bear’s BBQ.”
“We just never really felt like changing it,” Gary Clark, co-owner of the restaurant, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “We just kind of kept it the same. People remember it a certain kind of way.”
The location, which first opened in 1998, was the expansion of what Clark calls a pioneering business for not only barbecue in the Valley but the growing downtown.
Clark and his business partner had opened their first location in south Phoenix more than a decade before, hoping to bring their style of barbecue to Phoenix.
“Our barbecue roots come from west Tennessee,” Clark explained. “Cooking in a pit or in a smoker with wood or a combination of wood and charcoal is what we grew up and [were] used to doing.”
The menu features favorites like melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork sandwiches, baby back ribs, “HB specials” like fried catfish and, of course, side dishes like mac and cheese and collard greens.
The smoky taste and familiar location along the Central Corridor made it a perfect place for repeat business.
“When customers [start] coming in, they’re bringing their kids in baby carriers, then the next thing you know, they’re ready to go to college,” Clark mused.
The business also seemed to be growing up alongside the expanding downtown.
With the expansions came growing pains, like during construction of the light rail when Clark recalled many businesses, including his own, took a hit.
“We were here prior to light rail,” Clark said. “It was hard for people to survive [as it was being built] and hard to do business, especially in the Central Corridor. So that was a big thing to get beyond.”
Plus, the challenges faced by the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We transitioned to more of a takeout [business] and did more curbside, delivery business,” he said. “That kind of thing became the main source of traffic [for the restaurant].”
Despite challenges over the years, the restaurant and its owners have worked to give back to those in need, often donating food and meals to different churches and nonprofits in the Valley including St. Mary’s Food Bank and Ronald McDonald House Charities.
“We felt like it if we’re able to feed people, then we’re able to give back,” Clark said.
Now, after more than 24 years at the iconic location, Honey Bear’s has sold their iconic building to Little Miss BBQ, another well-known Valley barbecue joint.
“The next folks that come here, they’ll be able to sit here for a while and grow up with the new downtown,” Clark said. “They’ll be able to reap that value that we have reaped for as long as we’ve been here.”
While the original location remains open, Clark said they’re still waiting to see what the next big move will be for Honey Bear’s.
Honey Bear’s BBQ’s Central will be serving food through Tuesday.