The wall of Frankie’s Patriotic BBQ is dedicated to Frank Gross, who was killed in Afghanistan. The soldier is the son of Craig Gross, the owner of the restaurant, shown above.
TARPON SPRINGS – Frank Gross enlisted in the Army when he was 24, following in the footsteps of a military family that dates back to 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. On July 16, 2011, just 21 days after shipping out, Frank was killed when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
His father, Craig Gross, is still learning how to live in a world without his son.
On June 21, Craig, a former chef and food distributor, officially opened Frankie’s Patriot BBQ at 2364 Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs, the former home of Roe’s Place.
“After my son was killed, I just didn’t care about selling groceries anymore,” Gross said. “And I had this harebrained idea that I could open a restaurant. So I did.”
Frankie’s BBQ serves burgers and fries, but the main staple of the restaurant is the custom-made smoker on the front lawn, Gross said. There, he smokes Boston butt, brisket, chicken and ribs with three different sauces: Skip’s Sweet and Smoky, Craig’s Crazy Hot Sauce and Frankie’s Favorite.
The restaurant serves about 100 people a day, Gross said, beating the projected sales by nearly 50 percent. Many of his customers, he said, come for the décor as much as for the food.
There’s a wooden bench out front, and scattered chairs, but in the mind-numbing heat of a Florida summer, Gross’ customers have taken refuge in the air conditioning. Inside, surrounded by red and white-checkered curtains, the smell of barbecue is so strong and sweet that it seems like it stays in the uniforms of his staff through several washings.
The walls are covered with Uncle Sam posters, V-J Day photographs and war memorabilia from Tarpon Springs families whose children, parents and siblings have been killed in action. Even among the ribs and the potato salad, the stench of war hangs over Frankie’s BBQ.
“I have a buddy, he just shipped out to the Navy, who started bringing groups of friends here once he found it,” said Jeff Henderson. “Even now that he’s gone, I come back all the time.”
With a 5 percent discount for veterans, Gross said many of his customers come to the restaurant as a celebration of their past. And some, he said, come because they understand how it feels to lose a child.
“It’s my personal grief therapy,” Gross said. “This is the healthiest I’ve been mentally, physically and spiritually since my son died.”
Frankie’s Patriotic BBQ is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays.