PHOTO COURTESY OF Alan Luby/for South Florida Times
Barbecue is an 80-year family tradition in the McCray family. It started as Harvey’s Barbecue in West Palm Beach on 7th and Tamarind during segregation. Herman C. McCray Jr., worked at his Uncle Harvey’s place as a young boy and a teenager. But after the place was sold, Big Herman started selling his own barbecue, and from there, the rest – as they say, is history!
Reverend Herman C. McCray Jr., a stalwart in the Palm Beach County community, and founder of McCray’s BBQ died in 2013, but his son Derrick, had long taken over the reins and continued the family tradition with McCray’s Backyard BBQ, the name his dad gave his company when he took over some 10 years ago, paying homage to the long time the elder McCray spent cooking BBQ in the back yard of their house, before he secured a building.
As CEO of World Famous McCray’s Backyard BBQ, Derrick McCray took the company to national prominence, cooking for over a half dozen Super Bowls, and serving as lead judge on the nationally televised show, “Holy Smokers” on the Discovery Channel. But the younger McCray said none of it would have been possible without his father.
So on April 16 at 11:43 a.m. he held a Topping Off Ceremony to resume construction on his new building on 45th Street in Mangonia Park, in honor of his father. The construction had begun several years ago, but an entanglement with the Town of Mangonia Park held it up until he was given clearance late last year to move forward.
“It went great,” said McCray of the ceremony. “We honored my dad for his outstanding service. That’s why we put the columns up at 11:43, by honoring him. That was symbolic of my dad’s death and life and a new beginning. He was like a column, a pillar of strength in this community. On the anniversary of his death, we knew it was time to move forward with the building.”
It was a star-studded event, with family, close friends, community members and politicians, including Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, Town of Mangonia Park Mayor William Albury, and Riviera Beach Councilman Terence “T.D.” Davis.
Cynthia Morrow, Herman’s sister, gave a rousing prayer and song in honor of her brother. “I’m just sorry that my brother isn’t here to witness this. He would have loved this! I know he’s looking down smiling.” she said. Pictures of Herman McCray greeting the late Rosa Parks and former President Bill Clinton flanked the podium.
“This has been a long time coming,” said his son Demetrius. “I wish he was here to see it come to pass. This was inspired by him. It’s bringing his vision to life.”
Herman C. McCray was larger than life. A bridge connecting West Palm Beach with Riviera Beach is named after him. Derrick says he now realizes just how much of a giant his father was. “Whenever I did what my father suggested I do, it worked,” he quipped. He said his father and mother, Lillian, who were married 51 years, were great role models for him and his two brothers, Demetrius and “Lil” Herman, who is named after their father.
McCray said his father taught him the business and then passed the torch. “I’m a natural at this. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, helping my dad.
But McCray said it hasn’t been easy. At one point, he was hurting terribly financially due to his battle with Mangonia Park, whom he says wanted him to construct a building, instead of his food trailer. “I was on financial life support, and I went through a lot. But we ended up making it through. But after my dad died, I didn’t know if I wanted to continue this fight.” For now, he has food trucks at two locations. He hopes to open the new building by December 5, his birthday.
McCray says he persevered because of his family legacy. “It’s not about me,” he told the crowd at the ceremony. “I didn’t know how great my father was until he was gone. My father loved his family. I humbly today, dedicate this building to my father.”
McCray said he’s fulfilling a legacy also of community service -something his father was known for. “Through all the trials and tribulations, we continue to give and give and give. We give to the community, we feed the homeless. Later this summer, we’ll feed over 3,000 people in the upcoming ‘Peace and Feast’ in the Neighborhood. And on that second day, we’ll have ‘Praise in the Park.’ ”
Dan Calloway, also a community stalwart who has a recreation complex named after him in Riviera Beach, said no one was a bigger giver than his best friend, Herman McCray. “He always fed the least of these, the lost, and the left out. There’s never been a person to give back like Herman.”
Derrick McCray said it’s only by the grace of God that he’s been able to take the family business to the world stage with Super Bowls and a national TV show. “Only through God we’ve made it to this point.
You just can’t give up. I thank God and my father for giving me ‘stick-to-it-tiveness.’ This is all I had. I had to fight for what I believe in.”