CRESTVIEW — A Main Street restaurant’s landmark barbecue smoker has generated some heat for its owner and chef.
Wright Choice Soul Food opened in late 2013 in a site vacated by Country Chicken and Fish. The location is across the street from the county courthouse.
Fans of owner and chef Albert Wright’s down-home cooking and barbecue were drawn by the aroma wafting from the smoker in a parking spot out front. It quickly became a landmark for directions to the eatery.
“Everybody smells this aroma and knows it’s lunchtime,” said attorney Dixie Dan Powell, whose practice is on the same block.
Wright said when he opened the restaurant, he sought and received permission from city officials to put the cooker out front.
“Then all of a sudden he was requested to remove his grill,” Powell, representing Wright, recently said while addressing the City Council.
Wright moved the grill to the back of the building, but with it went his major attraction.
“We had people come all the way from Navarre, but they said they couldn't find our place,” Wright said. “People say to look for the grill out front.”
Private smoker, public street
Placing the smoker in a public parking space was “an inappropriate conversion of public property to private usage” that if approved by the council, “could set a dangerous precedent," city attorney Jerry Miller said.
Wright said he requested permission from multiple city officials — including Fire Chief Joe Traylor, building inspector Eric Davis and building official Jonathan Bilby — to place the grill in front of his business.
“I tried to find the ordinance,” Wright said. “They said there was no ordinance because I was doing it in front of my place.”
“This was allowed and approved by the city to be used for nine months,” Powell said.
“If that's the case, I would ask the city to investigate who it was who thought they had authority to authorize this,” Miller said.
At the June 23 City Council meeting, Wright submitted a petition signed by 300 supporters, and Powell said a canvass of business owners on the block raised no objections to the grill’s placement in front of Wright Choice Soul Food.
“We don't do nothing without going out to do the right thing,” Wright said.
Powell and Miller agreed to discuss Wright’s options prior to raising the matter again during the July 14 council meeting.