When Johnnie “Big Daddy” Ball opened his first storefront restaurant, Big Daddy’s All American BBQ, in 2001, one of his part-time employees was a young nephew named Paul Brantley.
“I worked for Big Daddy at different locations since he opened that first restaurant at 11th and Garnett,” Brantley said. “I managed the Broken Arrow store for a while.”
At one time, Ball had four restaurants going — the one in east Tulsa, one in north Tulsa, one in Broken Arrow and one in Jenks — all operated by family members.
After Ball’s death in 2010, one by one they dwindled away. The Jenks store was the last to close in 2016.
Today, Brantley and his brother, Ivan Brantley, are making a comeback with Big Daddy’s Barbeque, Burgers & More in west Tulsa.
It’s across the street from Clinton West Elementary School in a tiny, aging building that for many years housed Crow’s Drive-In, known for its old-fashioned hamburgers.
“Because of the history of Crow’s, it was Ivan’s idea to add hamburgers to our menu,” Paul Brantley said. “I was against it at first, but it worked out perfect. We use fresh ground beef, and people really like them.”
Ivan said he almost had a change of heart after receiving an order for 30 burgers, all with a different set of condiments.
“I thought my brother might have been right in the first place,” he said with a smile.
Big Daddy’s is carryout only. It barely has room inside for six chairs for customers to use while waiting on their orders. It has two old picnic tables in the parking lot, and Reed Park is just down the street for those who like to picnic in the park.
Loaded potatoes always were a specialty at Big Daddy’s, so we ordered one topped with shredded chicken and pulled pork ($10). It was a monster, easily enough for two average diners. The chicken was more tender and moist than the pork, but both delivered good flavor.
I ordered The Feast ($15), which came with a choice of four meats and two sides. Sliced brisket was a little dry and benefited from a splash of mildly spicy barbecue sauce. The meat on two modest-sized ribs was nearly falling off the bone, and beef Polish sausage had a mellow flavor.
I almost always order bologna at Oklahoma barbecue joints because our folks know how to do it right. The slices of bologna at Big Daddy’s were crispy on the edges and had a mildly smoky flavor.
Of the sides, I like the sweet-tasting beans, dotted with bits of pork and onion, the best. Long, medium-size fries were good, and fried okra was fine.
The brothers made a good decision adding the hamburgers. A single cheeseburger ($6) was meaty, served on a soft bun and had a good, old-fashioned flavor. I can’t imagine how large the double and triple burgers must be.
Paul Brantley said they recently added a one-meat Lil Daddy potato on the children’s menu, which also includes a corn dog and chicken fingers for $5 each.
He said they plan to add catfish to the regular menu in the future.
Big Daddy’s offers catering, and the meats are available to order by the pound.
Brantley said he worked for Oil States Industries the past five years and eased himself back into the restaurant business.
“My co-workers wanted me to bring them some stuff, so I did a trial run with 25 potatoes,” he said. “They went over big, so I started bringing stuff in once a week.
“I also belong to a car club and a motorcycle club, and I started bringing stuff to the clubhouse, too. Then Ivan and I started talking. We always thought we might go back to the restaurant business.”
Paul’s daughter, Kori, also has begun working at the restaurant when not in school.
“The west side has been good to us,” Brantley said. “I think people appreciate we are here, and we’re happy to be here.”