On May 9, Blue Willy's owner Will Banks closed his restaurant after three years in Pompano Beach to reopen at a new location at 1190 E. Commercial Boulevard in Oakland Park. The new Blue Willy's is expected to reopen later in June, but already another establishment has taken up shop at his previous location at 1386 S. Federal Highway.
On June 2, the new barbecue restaurant opened its doors in the former Blue Willy's BBQ space. Walk in today, and déjà vu might set in. In fact, you might not even be aware the business has changed hands.
"As soon as I left [there], a sign was up in the window the next day saying: 'Gone fishing be back in two weeks,'" says Banks. "Two weeks later, a new restaurant opened."
The new barbecue biz is Texas Blue BBQ, but that fact is not at all obvious. Inside, the dining room appears unchanged from the Blue Willy's setup. Although Banks removed all of his furniture and decor, there are new, similarly styled wooden tables placed in the same locations, each one set with the same glass bottles you'd have found at Blue Willy's for its three special sauces. An American flag hangs once more on the far right wall, where Banks once hung his.
A similar chalkboard menu has replaced Banks' wood-framed one, too, organized the same way you'd have found it at Blue Willy's BBQ; it also offers combo plates, sandwiches served on onion rolls, and meats like Texas-style brisket, pulled pork, chicken, and spare ribs sold by the pound. They even have smoked pastrami — and only on Thursday — just like Blue Willy's BBQ.
The most glaring similarity to Blue Willy's BBQ, however, is the new yellow sign above the doors that reads "Barbecue: ribs, chicken, brisket, pork." It is almost an exact replica of the old sign, which Banks says he took down and moved to the Oakland Park location May 10.
"If you want to copy everything I've done because you don't have the ability to do it on your own, that's fine. This is the restaurant business, it happens often," says Banks. "But [this is] pathetic and reprehensible."
Phone calls to Texas Blue BBQ manager (and former Blue Willy's chef) Mike Solo were unsuccessful. When approached in person at the restaurant, Solo declined to be interviewed.
"We have nothing to say about the business at this time," said Solo. "No comment."
When asked if he would be willing to answer questions about the business, Texas Blue BBQ co-owner Mitch Canada also refused comment for this story. A followup email attempt was made.
It's not just the decor that strikes a familiar chord, however. Visit the Texas Blue BBQ Yelp page or Texas Blue BBQ website and it says the business was "established in 2013" and offers customers "award winning ribs, pulled pork, brisket and chicken" from a restaurant that has "become locally famous for both [its] menu and [its] location."
Texas Blue BBQ posted this to its website:
There are some new elements that separate Texas Blue BBQ, though: They've added fries as a side menu option; the dining room now has two TVs; and they've replaced Blue Willy's extensive bottled craft beer selection with several options for draft beer.
When customers call Texas Blue BBQ, anyone who answers the phone will say "Texas Blue," and if asked directly about who is operating the business, staff will tell customers the business is no longer affiliated with Blue Willy's BBQ.
According to Scott Quinzi and Greg Aghajanian, who cut meat at Blue Willy's in Pompano Beach and plan to work at the new Oakland Park location when it opens later this month, the competition is hot and heavy.
"[The landlord] offered me a job working at the new restaurant," says Aghajanian.
"They never approached me to offer me a job, but [the landlord] would say awful things about Will, like, 'He's going to screw everybody over. He's not an honest businessman, and you should go find another job.' The way those guys went about opening a restaurant behind Will's back, I think what they're doing is wrong," adds Quinzi. "Be original, create your own recipes, and do your own thing."
Texas Blue BBQ is located at 1386 S. Federal Highway, Pompano Beach. Call 754-216-3653, or visit texasbluebbq.biz.
Blue Willy's BBQ will open June 2016 at 1190 E. Commercial Blvd., Oakland Park. Call 954-224-6120, or visit the Blue Willy's Facebook page.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.