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Leonard’s Pit Barbecue, the legendary 100-year-old Memphis restaurant with new ownership, hopes to begin expansion next year with a new building in Bartlett.

Leonard’s, once a favorite for Elvis, is also considering plans for locations in East Memphis and northern Mississippi for its future growth.

Co-owners Mathew and Wendy McCrory, Brad Turner and Edward LaPlante are finalizing designs for a 4,000-square-foot building in Bartlett just north of the Stage Road and Germantown Parkway intersection. They hope to present plans to the suburb for consideration next month.

“The City of Bartlett is seemingly very business-friendly. There’s a lot of growth in the area,” McCrory said. “I would love to see us open in September, but there will be a lot of determining factors.”

Actual construction should take four to five months.

Leonard’s is the oldest barbecue business in Memphis, opening in 1922 under the eye of Leonard Heuberger. An original five-stool eatery at Trigg and Latham moved to its longtime location at Bellevue and McLemore in 1932. Leonard’s expanded during the late 1960s and 1970s to other spots, including East Memphis and Whitehaven. Leonard’s only outlet left is the current spot on Fox Plaza Drive, which opened in 1997.

“We are looking to expand Leonard’s beyond the one (Bartlett) location,” McCrory said. “We do have a lot of challenges with that building (on Fox Plaza). It’s a very old building, and it’s tucked away into a corner where there’s really not a whole lot going on.

“Thankfully our customers do still frequent us and visit us and find us.”

McCrory and LaPlante, also co-owners of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, plan the new Leonard’s just one block away from their Bartlett Gus’s restaurant at 2943 North Germantown Road.

Four months ago, the Leonard’s ownership group, which purchased the restaurant from Dan Brown in August 2021, acquired the land for their Bartlett expansion. McCrory cites the overall density of the Wolfchase area and that the property sits right on the line almost into Memphis.

Some of the special memorabilia connected with the brand’s rich history will be moved to the new location.

“We are going to move that old delivery truck (that sits in the dining room of the current location),” McCrory said. “One of the things that was very important to me was thinking what we could preserve.”

She says they have not made a determination regarding the future of the existing Leonard’s once the Bartlett location is up and running.

“And we probably won’t know until we open up the newer location,” McCrory said.

One thing the new location will not have is buffets, a staple in Fox Meadows pre-pandemic.

“I don’t see that coming back. I just don’t see the need for that many dine-in customers,” McCrory said. “It’s a different time in the world, and I think that we do have far more people who are taking product home versus dining in than there was just five years ago.”

Buying Leonard’s started for McCrory more so as a project really out of love.

“The brand is so coveted by so many people,” she said.”Someone is always talking about how special Leonard’s is to them.”

Leonard’s long-time employee and service manager Loretta Hopper has worked at the restaurant for 51 years and “does anything but plumbing and electrical.”

“With Leonard’s being 100 years old this year, we would be ending the 101st year in business out at the new Bartlett location,” she said.

She credits McCrory and others for stepping up to buy notable local restaurants and help keep them going since the pandemic eliminated many smaller mom and pop operations.

“What sets us apart is that we have a consistent product. Our coleslaw is a secret and a great combination with our barbecue and our sauce,” Hopper said. “Leonard’s is the granddaddy of barbecue. It’s just a part of Tennessee to go to Leonard’s.”


By , Special to the Daily Memphian | Published: December 29, 2022