COLUMBIA — It’s easy to drive by and miss the small restaurant located at 205 McBaine Ave. near Ash Street. But if you’re driving slowly or walking by, it’s hard to miss the smell of the hickory smoke coming from the big grill — called “Big Boy” — sitting outside J.R. Barton’s Southern Kitchen and BBQ.
The restaurant’s menu is filled with comfort food such as fried okra, tater tots and chili cheese fries, as well as standard barbecue fare — ribs, rib tips, whole catfish and pork tenderloin.
The restaurant, formerly known as Sutton’s Market, was opened in 1992 by the four Sutton brothers — James, Terry, Jerry and Larry — using the barbecue guidance of their father, Jimmie Sutton. It was a small neighborhood grocery store called Cronan’s before the Suttons took over.
The brothers took turns managing the place over the years.
But when the latest manager, Jerry Sutton, decided to step down this spring, none of the other brothers originally stepped up to keep the restaurant running.
However, a lot of people in the neighborhood were sad to see this neighborhood gem go, so instead of selling the building, one brother, James Barton Sutton, felt it was important to keep the business going because of its history in the neighborhood.
“I just didn’t want to see this building to fall to the wayside,” Sutton said. “It has too much history. I wanted to keep this business here for the younger generations. It’s a historical landmark as far as I’m concerned.”
The restaurant reopened the second week of August under a new name, J.R. Barton’s Southern Kitchen and BBQ, and under a new manager, Al Canagan, who is the first person outside the family to run the place.
Although there’s new management, Canagan said that the patriarch of the Sutton family, Jimmie Sutton, still comes around to offer his knowledge on the art of barbeque, which is comforting.
“What we try to offer people is good food, a comfortable place to eat in and a spirit of caring and true concern about what they’re eating and where they’re at and just a genuine love for the people who come in,” Canagan said.
Columbia resident Richard Clarke stopped by for the first time to eat some ribs last week. When Canagan asked him how the food was, Clarke said, “I don’t have to go to Kansas City anymore. This is excellent.”