A white poster board with hand-scrawled messages hangs next to a cotton plant that Elijah "Eli" Crawford tended on the side of his barbecue joint.
The poster bears sad news.
The longtime owner of Eli's Bar B Que, Dunedin's favorite roadside barbecue stand, passed away Thursday.
Crawford was 71.
A permanent marker is attached to the poster board announcing his passing. Friends and customers are encouraged to leave handwritten notes as a celebration of his life.
Crawford, of Clearwater, came to the Tampa area in 1967 and worked several years as a butcher. He opened a small barbecue cart on Highland Avenue in Clearwater before moving it to its permanent location in Dunedin.
There, the iconic barbecue shack became a Dunedin landmark at the corner of Skinner Boulevard and the Pinellas Trail.
Crawford loved seeing people smile from eating his food.
Smoke could be seen billowing from the pit house as early as Wednesday so Crawford could prepare to serve customers on Fridays and Saturdays only.
Since creating the walk-up restaurant in the late 1990s, people from across Tampa Bay flocked there to sit on the picnic tables under oak trees while enjoying a taste of his barbecue. A line of hungry patrons would often fill the front and nearly spill onto Skinner Boulevard.
He converted the barbecue stand out of a former ice cream shop. He refurbished the kitchen and built the outdoor screened “shack” behind the restaurant known as the "Big Foot" grill house, where he spent most of his time.
Over the years his barbecue was featured as a favorite in most major Tampa Bay area news outlets.
A February 2011 story in Dunedin Patch reports how his childhood experiences fostered his love for making good barbecue.
Crawford developed a fondness for barbecue as a kid growing up in Valdosta, Ga., in what he calls the barbecue belt. With his seven brothers and seven sisters, Crawford recalls helping his parents make homegrown feasts centered around barbecue. When he was 17, he worked for a corner market where he learned how to transform a hog into sausage.
In recent years, Crawford began training Eric Davis, like a surrogate son, to take over as head pit master.
“When I step back and Eric takes over, I’ll still be around. I won’t disappear," Crawford told Patch in February 2011. "This place is a big part of my life.”
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