“Drivers, don’t forget about that genuine hickory smoked, no joke, hitting-it-on-the-down-stroke real pork barbecue. We’re putting a little beef in everybody’s teeth 'cuz we’ve got a deal that’ll flat knock you off of you’re feet. Tune on down to channel one six and enjoy the treat. That’s genuine hickory smoked, no joke barbecue is on channel one six.”
With a CB microphone in one hand, two cell’s and a land-line nearby, a pile of cash and checks beside him at the cash register, and sporting a starched white shirt and black bow tie, Ray Gage of West Memphis’ Ray’s World Famous Bar-B-Que might be mistaken for a carnival flim-flam man. He is anything but. Ray is well-seasoned in the art of Q and the master-blaster doctorate-degree-holder of business dynamics. If you can keep pace with Ray, you qualify for the iron man marathon
“My mother, the only person who believed in me when I started in business, told me to never stop, Don’t quit, never stop,” he says between calls and greetings to truckers coming in for take-away. By all indications, Ray never does stop.
Ray Gage started learning his skills selling nickel snow cones in 1960 in Hughes, Ark., while working by the side of Joe Holmes. Sr. Holmes had a BBQ stand near the juke joints for late-night revelers. “He made his sauce extra hot, and when people started eating, they’d want something cool and wet to go with it. That’s how I made my money. The deal was, I’d clean the trailer afterwards for him to have my snow cone stand in there,” Ray says.
He hocked his high school trombone for $72 and used the money to go into the clothing and accessory business. Purchasing earrings, wigs and clothing he opened Ray’s Wigs and High Fashion on Broadway. Local businessman, Herman Baer, became the second person to believe in Ray by giving him a cash register and display case. “It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” declares the proud and grateful Ray.
To see Ray’s from the interstate one would never suspect such a business acumen. Just north of interstate 55 on the Service Road, it is easy to see. It’s classic BBQ shack to the eye – solitary, wind-swept and ramhackle - the rough shell of a pearl inside.
“He’s a legend,” says Vernon Brewer, a UPS long-haul driver dropping in for a visit and lunch. “I’ve been coming to Ray’s since I was about 5 years old. He’s just awesome this man – awesome!”
Ray started cooking on the side while running his clothing and accessories business. Since then, he has refined his new snow cone angle to commerce. On CB channel 19 he can broadcast to the thousands of truckers coming through. In his message, he directs them to channel 16 where he can take their orders. Because of his location, it’s direct service to have runners take orders to the truckers on the run at the truck stops.
It’s a constant stream of transactions, whether delivery orders or customers coming through the door. Everbody working for Ray is hoppin’. He gives the directions, like a air traffic controller, and the product moves.
“I have two rules for my employees,” illustrates Ray with two fingers in the air. “Rule Number 1 is – The customer is always right. Rule Number 2 is – do not forget rule Number 1!”
Jovan, a trucker en route from Tupelo to L.A. says, “Man, I stop at Ray’s for the quality. This is it. You see the warmed barbecue sauce Veela is ladling on? That’s the touch.”
Lenard, who is trucking to Houston, says, “I’ve got Ray’s on my Facebook page to let people know. He caters – brings it to the truck stop, but I come in just to see him. I was in here about 35 times last year on my way through. It’s delicious barbecue. Flat out.”
“We cook it old-style with hickory wood and charcoal in our pit house out back. All this dry rub rib stuff is some sort of Generation X nonsense. Real barbecue ribs have the sauce glazed into them in the last 30 minutes, and then you hit it again at 15 minutes to seal it all in,” explains the maestro with a bit of a limp, moving from cash register to sink to the chopping board.
“What’s the issue with your leg, Ray?”
“That ain’t nothing but a little arthritis. Ain’t gonna slow me down. No, sir. I don’t never stop, never quit, keep going. I can do 15 things at once,” he rebuffs.
And forward the legend goes, creating not only great barbecue, but an incomparable atmosphere of industrious optimism about life. If you can’t get to Ray’s, no worries, he’ll get it to you come hell or high water. Let there be no doubt about that!
For those that can make it – seating for dinner and the show, 24.
Ray’s World Famous Bar-B-Que
4114 East Service Road
West Memphis, AR 72301