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By JEFF HOUCK | The Tampa Tribune

Published: January 4, 2011


709 E. Highway 60, Mulberry, Fl

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

The problem most soul food restaurants face, Johnny Carter Jr. says, is that they try to serve a huge variety of food all the time. By offering a menu of every exotic dish – from oxtails to neckbones – they often waste money by having to throw out what customers don't order.

Carter knows about supply chains. For more than 25 years, he worked as a logistics manager for FedEx, UPS and Office Depot.

So when he started Carter's Bar-B-Que take-out nine years ago in a trailer on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, he stuck to two things: ribs and chicken. Once the business became a success, he moved into a red, concrete-block house along State Road 60 in Mulberry and turned the carport into a drive-through.

The menu has grown since those early days to include soul food staples such as fried okra, oxtail, lima beans, collard greens and sweet potato pie. But he stays close to the rib foundation. If you want them, he serves rib tips, a rib slab, a thin-end rib, large ribs, small ribs, and ribs and chicken.

The key, he says, is freshness and consistency.

"My customers know that if they want oxtail, you don't come on Tuesday because we don't get a delivery then," Carter says. "You come on Thursday when it's fresh. We only serve it fresh."

His signature yellow barbecue sauce, a family recipe from his days growing up in Albany, Ga., also lures hungry diners. It's so popular that he sells it in bottles.

"We've shipped it everywhere," he says. "We have people from Japan who call and ask us to send them some."


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