Talking about Tombo's Backporch BBQ with owner Clark Braddock
1. Tell us about Tombo's.
Tombo's opened 22 years ago, in January of 1991. We wanted to provide a quick breakfast and lunch that was an alternative to frozen meals that are just deep-fried and passed to you through a window. We have a good menu and the food quality is very good. Our prices are pretty economical too; we haven't had a price increase since 2008.
2. Where does the name Tombo's come from?
It's the nickname of the original owner. His name was Tom but he was called Tombo ever since he was a kid.
3. What makes Tombo's special?
The atmosphere and the people here have a lot to do with it. It's a very, very friendly atmosphere. You feel right at home and at ease as soon as you walk in. A lot of people meet here with their friends every single day.
…why only breakfast and lunch and not dinner?
Our location hasn't lent itself to a supper crowd because the traffic dies down before supper. We tried supper 3 or 4 years ago and it just didn't work. We'd like to make it work though and we may try it again next year.
4. What can you recommend for someone new to Tombo's?
For breakfast I'd recommend the Country Boy Breakfast, which is a generous helping of hash browns, gravy, cheeses, eggs, meat and toast. It's all there. We season our hash browns and potatoes with our own sparkle, giving them the "Tombo taste." That's one unique thing for us.
For lunch I'd recommend the chicken and ribs with one of our sides. We prepare our vegetables and salads fresh every day. There's nothing out of a can.
We also do our own hamburgers the Tombo way and people tell us they're fantastic.
…what is the Tombo way?
It has to have our special taste. It can't be bland. It's what I experienced growing up in Florida. A home taste that comes when someone has taken the time to make sure it tastes good. We make it taste like you wish you could do at home.
We also use all local fresh meat, vegetables and eggs. All our sausage, hamburger meat, ribs, and pork are fresh from a local supplier, never frozen. We add our own seasoning to make it ours.
5. Can you tell us about your barbecue style?
Our barbecue style is fairly traditional. The only thing I put on is the rub, and then the smoking. Some people eat the barbecue plain, but I also make my own hot and mild mustard based barbecue sauces onsite that people can add themselves.
We barbecue every day. The meat goes on the smoker for about 6 hours, and then goes straight from the smoker to the customer.
6. What's the most popular item?
I would say the ribs and chicken, or the hamburger. We sell so many hamburgers that it's probably that.
7. Can you tell us about your burger?
It starts with our fresh beef. We season it in-house and then let it rest for a day or so. Then we cook it to order. It's a half pound, so it's a good size. We add a little bit of a charred crust. We finish it off with different cheeses and a lot of other toppings.
8. What's your favorite item?
Ribs! I'm partial to barbecue.
9. When you're not eating at Tombo's what's your favorite place in Jacksonville to eat?
Daruma. It's very different. It's very, very good food. I get a salad they make just for me. I love it. It's just good food.
10. Who's in charge of your kitchen?
Matthew Barwick runs things. He has an extensive history as a Cajun chef. He's won a lot of awards. I feel very fortunate to have him as a part of Tombo's.
…how did you connect up with Matthew?
Matthew just walked in one day about a year ago. He had just moved to Jacksonville. I was talking to him and we hit it off. He's turned out to be a great addition to the Tombo family.
11. Where do you get your recipes?
Some are from the original owner, Tom. The newer additions are mine or Matthew's. Tom and I both have a similar idea about how to cook and season food. We use salt and pepper of course. And onion plays a big part. We use jalapeños for our hot stuff. We also feature datil peppers. I grew up in St. Augustine and they were a staple. I've been moving everything to include more datil peppers.
...what's a datil pepper?
It's a small pepper. It's pretty potent. It has a special flavor. I love it, and a lot of people do. I've created a datil pepper dip that I put on the tables. People just love it. It's a little spicy - not too much, but enough to taste the datil pepper.
…do you sell your dip?
No, we don't produce enough for that. We just have enough to put some out on the tables.
12. Do you cook?
I'm more focused on the recipes and a little R&D. I leave the cooking to Matthew.
Every Friday there's a special and Matthew and I get together to try to come up with something a little out of the ordinary. Something tasty but different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
13. Can you tell us about your catering?
We offer a full range of catering. We can do everything from cooking, setting up, then serving and clearing up. Or we can prepare the food and let people take it from there. We've catered for over 400 people.
For clubs and associations, they can come to Tombo's at night and we'll open and cook just for them. We can handle up to 50 people in the restaurant.
14. Can you tell us a little about your background?
I was a tank inspector with an engineering background for almost 30 years. I was inspecting and repairing large bulk fuel storage tanks. I even have inventions on ways of testing them.
A while back I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. It's in remission but you never get cured. When I was doing the tank stuff I travelled a lot. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma I took a step back and decided I wanted to do what I love. I also wanted to be closer to my family, and I wanted to be in Jacksonville.
…how did you go from being an engineer to owning a restaurant?
I love the restaurant business; I enjoy it very, very much.
15. Have you owned a restaurant before?
I've been involved with some restaurants with my brother. One was called Willards, here in Jacksonville.
16. What attracted you to Tombo's?
It was about the size of a business that I wanted. It had a good reputation and a good history. We have people who come in today who've been coming here since they were a child, and now they're bringing in their kids. And I liked Tom, the previous owner. I thought I could take it and build on it to make it into what I wanted it to be.
17. Have there been any big surprises running Tombo's?
No, just the ordinary stuff.
18. What have been some of your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge is everything! You have bad days when you don't feel like getting up. But it's the love of the place, and I really do love coming here, that gets me going. It's therapeutic for me, let's put it that way.
19. What's next for Tombo's?
I'd like to expand the building. We're working with the building owner now to upgrade things like the roof and the siding. But we'd also like to expand the seating capacity and the menu. Hopefully we can create a dinner crowd.
…how would you expand the menu?
We'll add dinner entrees. I like to cook steaks. Matthew and I have also come up with some really, really good offerings that we've been testing with the staff and our customers. But it will take some time to put that together.
…what sorts of things have you come up with?
Our steak is really popular because of the seasoning and how we marinate it and then let it rest to let the flavors settle. We have some seafood dishes too, like gumbo, that we've tried. All the stuff we've tried has been a pretty big hit.
20. Anything else you'd like to add?
Just to give us a try and experience it for yourself. I think you'll like the food and the staff. They're all good people, every one of them.