PROGRESS 2023: Heard’s BBQ keeps region coming back
Published 11:15 am Monday, March 13, 2023
Editor’s note: This article originally published in “Progress 2023: Behind the Scenes.” Copies are available at our office, 1109 Seventh Street N in Clanton.
STORY & PHOTOS BY JOYANNA LOVE
Cars start pulling in even before the restaurant sign has been changed from closed to open.
The regulars get to Heard’s BBQ and Soul Food in Maplesville early because they know they have a short window of time to catch their favorites.
The smells of smoking meat and signature spices fill the air as opening time nears.
A small building and closed in patio on Highway 22 near Maplesville Supermarket are home to big flavors that keep locals and annual trippers coming back for more.
When Roman and Shakira Heard opened the restaurant six years ago, Roman already had a reputation for good food among his friends and family. His recipes grew out cooking at home and requests to cater for parties.
“It kind of grew out of that to where it started interfering with my other job,” Roman said.
He says the best part of having the restaurant is being able to establish it where he grew up.
“Just to be able to give back to the community,” Roman said.
He said it was a blessing because he was able to help people.
“I didn’t have to go to another city or another area to have a successful business,” Roman said.
He also enjoys getting “to be a part of our customers special days” as people come get food for birthdays and anniversaries.
“They appreciate what we do, and more importantly they love what we do,” Roman said.
Shakira was a Maplesville High School employee when she decided to start a new
career joining Roman at the restaurant in 2020.
“The thing I have enjoyed the most is I can tell it has relieved a lot of stress off of my husband to just juggle everything,” Shakira said.
She takes care of the paperwork end of the business and works in the kitchen. Roman can most often be found outside by the grill/smoker.
One of Shakira’s favorite items on the menu is the ribs, which are usually a Saturday special.
The seasonings and sauces started with flavors the Heards enjoyed, then experimented with until the blend was uniquely their own.
“It just comes from a mix of how I always cook,” Roman said. “I would take a mix of whatever I had in my cabinets … and see what I come up with.”
Shakira took a similar approach with the barbecue sauce.
The most popular item on the menu, especially with high school students, is the loaded fries. The dish features pulled pork, shredded cheese, bacon bits, barbecue sauce and chives on top of
a double order of fries. Sour cream comes on the side. Roman said he wanted to create something with all of the elements of a loaded baked potato without the potential waste of potatoes that had been cooked but did not sell.
Specialty items are offered on a semi-regular basis and are often popular. Each day’s menu is posted on the Heard’s BBQ and Soul Food Facebook page.
After being in the business so long, Roman most enjoys the specialty items on his menu, such as the catfish.
“During softball season, we play Maplesville a lot, so we will come (to Heard’s BBQ) weekly,” Haley Shirah, a customer from Billingsley, said. “Usually it is two or three times a month other than that.”
Her favorite item on the menu is the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on it.
“I don’t think you can finish it in one setting,” Shirah said. “… Their burgers are phenomenal.”
Roman had initially been reluctant to put the burgers on the menu because everyone likes them with different toppings, and it slows down the service process with a small staff. However, they have become a popular item.
The tantalizing photos of the food on Facebook prompted Shirah to visit her first time. She likes the variety that Heard’s offers through unique specialty items and fresh flavors.
Scotty Smith of Clanton comes to Heard’s three to four times a month.
“Everything they’ve got is good,” Smith said, specifically mentioning the barbeque sandwiches and Cajun hotdogs.
A guest book in Heard’s lobby chronicles the places near and far that customers have come from, including as far away as Virginia, Arizona, Delaware and New Jersey.
“We had a bus load of people that came from Baltimore, Maryland … they come here like every year,” Roman said.
The lobby also has highlights from Roman’s Little League coaching days and a helmet from each of the local high school football teams.
The popularity of Heard’s BBQ sauce and dry rub seasoning has expanded beyond the small restaurant to regional grocery stores.
Maplesville Supermarket was the first store to carry the product. The supermarket owns the building Heard’s is located in.
“We have a great relationship with them, so I told them I wanted to get the (barbecue sauce) bottles in stores,” Roman said.
The store agreed, and this created interest in others carrying the product.
“Being in Maplesville (Supermarket) gave the other grocery stores confidence in what we had,” Roman said.
In addition to Maplesville Supermarket, the seasoning and sauce is available in Sav Mor Associated Foods and Darlene’s Discount in Clanton, during peach season at Todd’s Produce in Clanton, two stores in Dallas County, two in Shelby County and one in Bibb County.
“We get connected to people who have heard about us or some kind of way we have a connection,” Roman said.
Getting the sauce and seasoning ready for packaging and retail sales was a lengthy process. The couple worked with Auburn University’s nutrition department to ensure the packaging would have accurate and complete nutritional information. The ServSafe approved kitchen at the restaurant is used to bottle the barbecue sauce. Shakirah said she had been “nervous about it” at first, and the process took about a year.
Customers have requested getting it into stores closer to them, but Roman said the business has to keep from overcommitting.
The couple’s goal for 2023 is to expand the hours of the restaurant into the evening and add more employees.