Rolling out chats with Daddy Fred’s BBQ Catering owner Fred D. Draper about growing up in the South, life in the military and running his business.
How did a Southern gentleman from Huntsville, Alabama, end up in Phoenix, Arizona?
Phoenix was one of the best places I have ever been stationed at while serving in the Air Force. When I got out of active duty, I didn’t want to move back to Alabama due to the lack of opportunities in the state. I started school full time at Arizona State University and working full time.
How was your experience serving our country in the military?
Serving our country has been a great experience and also a difficult one. Going to other countries, meeting new people, being a part of missions that you see as “breaking news” on TV have been some of the best things in the Air Force. But it’s also a difficult one because, when that uniform comes off, I’m still a Black man in a country that will not give me or my family justice if something ever happened to me, especially knowing that no matter how many years I serve with honors in the military I will be judged by the color of my skin.
How did you begin your journey in culinary arts?
Growing up, my grandmother used to make all kinds of food for me. When I joined the military, I didn’t have my granny to cook for me anymore. I started mimicking her foods, and my friends would have a taste and would ask, “Yo, Draper. This is good man. Who taught you how to cook like this?” I would tell them I taught myself. In fact, I asked my granny and aunts how they prepared this or that. For example, my baked beans. I asked my aunt how she made them because that was the dish she always brought over for a barbecue. She sat me down and taught me how to make them. Now folks go crazy over my food. Here I am today.
What has been the most difficult component of your entrepreneurial journey?
In America, wealth is passed down through generations. As a Black man from the South, the only thing to pass down is how to work hard and how to survive in this economy. I knew nothing about credit, capital or wealth. Now that I’m trying to accumulate wealth to own my restaurant, it’s taking a little bit longer because I have a family to take care of first. Then I can start on opening up my restaurant. Also, since I work full time and am a full-time student, I can’t be on hustle 24/7 like I want to because, when you are barbecuing, you have to cook it the right way – low and slow. If I used an electric smoker, the art behind barbecue would be lost, and I’ll be just a person who cares for the money and not the enjoyment of others when they taste my food.
What is it about grilling that’s special to you?
As a kid, when that grill was lit, you knew all of your family would be coming over. I was my mother’s only child, so my cousins are like brothers and sisters to me. When my granny pulled that big iron barrel grill out, I knew then we’re having folks over. In the Black family, grilling is like a family reunion or a celebration, and it’s going to be a good time. My folks would blast some Frankie Beverly featuring Maze, then switch it up to some Johnnie Taylor. For the Black family, grilling is when you push aside every struggle that we face in this country and we relax, have some drinks and enjoy some family time until that one drunk family member has too much to drink.
What are three tips can you share to help out the average person at home?
Don’t give up on what you love to do because you don’t have the time. You have 24 hours in a day, and it’s plenty of time to get up and make progress in life.
Don’t let other people tell you what you can and cannot do. You get out and prove [to] the world that you are just as strong as the strongest.
In the words of Marcus Garvey, “Up you mighty race. You can accomplish what you will.”
What are the reactions your clientele have expressed?
People are shocked when they have my food because they look at me and they think that I don’t know how to get down on the grill. They will say I look too young or too fit to be cooking food this good. I had people come up to me and give me hugs because they haven’t had good barbecue in a long time because the art is lost to those who [would] rather make a profit than fill the souls and hearts of those who [are] reminded by that one family member that has passed, who was a grill master. Ain’t nothing like someone saying that my ribs taste like their grandfather’s ribs. Then … I’ve really done something special.
What are your favorite foods to grill? And, any special preparation?
I would have to say beef brisket because anyone can put a slab of ribs in the oven and put some barbecue sauce on it and be satisfied. You can also put a pork shoulder in a Crock pot and add sauce and go on about your day. But that beef brisket … you can’t just put it in the oven. You have to slow cook it for about 10 hours at 225. When you cut it open, the juices just ooze into the pan, making it one of the most flavored meats on the grill. But you have to have your own sauce — not the ones you buy at the store but made from scratch. Beer and apple cider vinegar will make any meat taste good if you let it soak overnight.
Where would you like to see your culinary career in the next few years.
I would love to have my own restaurant in the next couple of years or sooner. But I want to be the guy that everyone talks about when it comes to barbecue. I want Daddy Fred’s BBQ to be global and not just national. I want everyone to try my food.
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