BARNEGAT, NJ – Up until a few weeks ago, business was hopping at Big Barlow’s BBQ & Catering at 21 South Main Street. Then, fears of the spread of the coronavirus hit and owner Chris Barlow shut down. While he’s closed to regular orders, Barlow is part of a meal train mission.
Barlow is the first to admit that his look intimidates people when they first meet him. However, his rough and tough exterior contradicts who he really is as a person. Before COVID-19 even became an issue, Barlow displayed a particular brand of inner kindness and generosity.
Now a self-proclaimed “pit boss,” Barlow started in the food industry in New York City. Assigned to do prep work, he caught a lucky break when the regular chef called out of work. Barlow’s boss instantly recognized his talent.
“They said they wanted to move me up to the chef position, but that I needed to go to school,” shared Barlow. “So, I wound up at Johnson & Wales and earned a food science degree.”
At some point, Barlow juggled jobs between the food industry and as a longshoreman. However, despite the diverse training and education, Barlow’s biggest lessons came from life itself.
“I grew up with absolutely nothing,” explained Barlow. “It makes me feel good to give back to people who are constantly there to help.”
A Northern New Jersey transplant, Barlow started his BBQ business on February 22, 2019. On the weekends, he’d set up his trailer at the ManaFirkin Brewing Company. Ultimately, Barlow parked over on Route 9 and Hilliard, opening for business at 11 am. He offered a select menu and closed shop when he was sold out.
From the onset, Barlow adapted the “giving back” mantra. Within three weeks of opening the food truck, a customer’s father died, and Barlow organized a fundraiser. He also was the first to suggest donating a portion of his sales when Shore Fire owner Tim Kohlheim passed away unexpectedly. The list goes on as far as supporting local sports teams and more.
Last October, Barlow took a leap of faith and opened up a brick and mortar restaurant. The phones rang off the hook as people called in for what reviews sum up as “lick-smacking amazing barbeque specialties.”
According to state law, Big Barlow’s BBQ & Catering can still offer take-out and delivery. However, Barlow worries about putting people at risk. Additionally, he knows a lot of families are feeling a money pinch because they’re out of work. Barlow doesn’t expect them to come out – especially when they should be home.
Soon after Barlow closed up, he received a call from a recruiter. It didn’t take much convincing for Barlow to enlist in Chef Lou’s Army. He now serves as part of a band of other restaurant owners and chefs whose mission is to “defend and support those on the front line in the war against COVID-19.” Their current goal is to serve up 50,000 meals. Barlow predicts it will get closer to 100,000.
Those hungry for barbeque are getting a taste of the best in town. Big Barlow’s has delivered dishes to first responders in Barnegat, Ocean Township, Stafford, Lacey, Little Egg Harbor, and Tuckerton. The restaurant also donated a large care package for Lakewood EMS and their fire department.
Healthcare workers in Southern Ocean County Medical Center and Community Medical Center have also benefited from Barlow’s generosity. Between the two facilities, Barlow dropped off over 200 meals. Candie’s Sweet Creations of Tuckerton added to the delivery with chocolate covered oreo cookies.
Barlow is amazingly humble and calls what he does the “little things.” However, in order to keep his head above water, Barlow plans to sell the trailer that started his business. After all, he’s made a pledge to himself during this time that requires him to have available cash.
The funding for meals comes entirely from donations, which can be made here. That said, each and every contribution comes with a matched dollar amount. Barlow reaches into his own pocket to supplement costs.
As it turns out, it’s not just tasty food that makes for a restaurant’s reputation. Service also plays a critical role. In the case of Big Barlow’s, both are tops on the menu.