Tuscaloosa’s Legendary “Mr. Tee” to Open BBQ Restaurant
One of the most iconic figures in the city of Tuscaloosa is once again opening his own brick and mortar barbecue restaurant after a decade of catering and serving sandwiches directly to the patrons of the city's bars.
Mr. Leon Trone, known universally to Tuscaloosa's barflies as Mr. Tee, is a lifelong resident of the Druid City and cut his teeth running the Millenium Club in the city's West End until the city shut down the establishment in 2000.
Mr. Trone said he looks back at the council's decision as a blessing, as it led to him changing his entire lifestyle and opening Tee's Ribs N-Things, a restaurant he operated on Tuscaloosa's 10th Avenue from 2001 until 2009.
"Through the mighty grace of God, he made the city close me down so after that I transferred into the restaurant business," Mr. Trone said in a Thursday interview with the Tuscaloosa Thread.
Early in the operation of the restaurant, Mr. Trone looked a few blocks over at Harry's Bar and saw an incredible business opportunity in the crowds that gathered there to drink but had no food to order on site.
"They'd have these big crowds on Tuesday night and I thought, 'Man, these kids need something to eat, I might be able to sell some barbecue sandwiches down there,' so I asked the owner if I could bring some sandwiches down -- it was Harry Hammond back then -- and he said yes. That was the start right there," Mr. Trone said. "I started selling there and about a year later the bars downtown had heard about me, so I went and talked to them and they were happy for me to do at their places, too."
In the almost 20 years since, Mr. Tee and his family have been a blessed sight to see for anyone frequenting bars on the Strip or in the downtown area. He sold barbecue sandwiches and smoked sausages with sides of his signature sauces for a dollar or two apiece, but more often than not would simply give the food away -- he said he never wanted to see a person who had too much to drink and needed to eat something go without just because they didn't have any cash on hand.
Mr. Trone became a local celebrity, then a hero, and has transcended into something else – one of Tuscaloosa's legends or icons. Bar-goers taking friends out on the town for the first time speak of Mr. Tee like an almost mythological figure – the man in the naval captain's hat who brings life-saving, hangover-preventing barbecue right to the door of the dive in which you find yourself.
"Being Mr. Tee, It's a blessing," Mr. Trone said. "When I see people and meet them and shake their hand, introduce myself and get to know them over the years, they almost become like one of my children, and I treat everybody the same, no one person better than another, I treat them all the same because they're all special."
Like everyone else, Mr. Trone had to change everything after the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the city, state and nation. Instead of serving the city's bar patrons, he has been cooking barbecue and other home-cooked food for the Community Soup Bowl, where he delivers food for the homeless and needy every Thursday.
After 11 years without a restaurant, though, Mr. Trone said it's time to get back in the brick-and-mortar business, which will allow him to work with his children and grandchildren and bring some revenue back to the family.
The new restaurant, Mr. Tee's Awesome BBQ and Homecooking, is set to open at 8402 Highway 69 South sometime in September after he clears the hurdles of health inspections, municipal licensing and more.
Mr. Trone said the new restaurant will, of course, offer barbecue chicken, pork and ribs, but also steak, hamburgers, catfish and eight homecooked sides including collard greens and mac and cheese.
The Tuscaloosa icon said he's not concerned about starting a new business during uncertain times while the country still grapples with the coronavirus as we await the development and distribution of a vaccine. Like the rest of his life, Mr. Trone said the new restaurant will be in God's hands.
"Any time you put God first, God controls everything. The pandemic – when it comes to this business I don't worry about that," Mr. Trone said. "If you've got good food and good service and put God first, he'll take care of everything else."
Stay tuned to The Tuscaloosa Thread for more details on the restaurant as they become available, including its opening date when it's set in stone.