Lakeland’s hometown barbeque spot since 1964, Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q maintains a lasting legacy of good food and good service, run by good folks. The restaurant was originally started by Jim Neff, owner of the Foxfire Restaurant and Henry Landworth who owned the Holiday Inn just down the road. Peck’s Freez-ette was the eatery’s first moniker.
It eventually became Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q and Neff hired Harold “Happy” Lehman to run it. “Dad managed it for him for a year and bought it from him in ’65,” remembered Harold’s daughter, Traci Lehman Hughes. Traci started working at Jimbo’s when she was 16 years old, leaving for a time to go to school in Orlando. In 2001, she bought the business and carries on the barbecue legacy that has endured for over half a century.
Not much has changed in Jimbo’s since the doors first opened. The warm wood-paneled dining area is lined with antiques (which Harold Lehman collected) and some pig-themed decor brought in by guests. The comfy space is filled with picnic-style bench seating and the large windows allow light to flood in. About half of their business comes from take-out through their drive-thru and walk-up windows. Guests can order there or order online through their website and on bitesquad.com.
A 1965 menu is framed, hanging on the wall, yellowed a bit with age. They’ve added a few things and taken a few off, but the bones of Jimbo’s menu remain the same. The current menu offers up barbecue standards like chopped pork, Bar B-Q beef and ham, chicken, Jimbo’s burger, or a fried fish sandwich with all the fixin’s. The star of the show is Jimbo’s Bar B-Q Ribs. By far, their biggest seller, the ribs, like the rest of their barbecue, are meat magic made with love. “We use an oiler pit, which comes out of Texas. We use no gas in cooking our barbeque – it’s all wood,” said Traci. “We put a dry rub on them, then we smoke them for 3 and a half, 4 hours. They come off and we baste them. It’s pretty simple – they’re just really good,” she smiled.
Everything but the potato salad is made in-house at Jimbo’s. That includes Bar B-Q beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese and more. But I’d be remiss not to mention the made from scratch, to-die-for apple and cherry pies. In fact, that’s what Traci was about to do as we walked in for the interview – roll out the dough for the day’s pie.
Though Harold Lehman passed away in 2018, Jimbo’s remains family-owned and operated. Traci’s daughters work with her at the restaurant. Daughter Olivia also runs Happy’s Place Farm and Chloe attends the University of Florida online. Daughter Molly is currently attending college at UF and picks up a shift or two when she comes home to Lakeland. Traci’s nephew, Tyson Hutto and cousin, Daryl Lehman also work at the restaurant.
Jimbo’s offers catering and a holiday special in which you can buy whole pies and smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They begin taking reservations for that on November 1 – whip your phone out now because they usually book up within the first week.
“We haven’t changed much over the last 50 years – it’s kind of crazy, but it works,” said Traci. She learned this concept from her dad, though she’d nudge him to tweak things here or there in the past. “Now that I’m older, I get that. It works – why would I want to mess with it?” That’s only one of the many things Traci learned working with her dad. She also learned, “To value your customers, to be nice, to get out there and help your community and give back where you can.”
Jimbo’s customer base is generational. The family says they are thankful for the community that has supported their small business over the years. “We can’t do it without them. We’re so lucky, we have generations who come in. People will come in with their grand-dad and their dad,” said Traci. Though not messing with what works is part of Jimbo’s business model, that doesn’t mean they won’t listen to their customers. They are toying with the idea of giving pulled and chopped chicken a permanent spot on the menu. In other exciting news – they’ll be adding a rib sandwich soon! “It’s going to be on a thicker, Texas toast white bread with ribs. It’s simple but people ask for it all the time,” said Traci.
I stopped in for some take-out during a Wednesday lunch-hour rush. The Jimbo’s Bar B-Q Ribs plate was calling my name. The barbeque plates come with two hushpuppies and two sides. I chose mac and cheese and potato salad. For dessert – apple pie! I drove back to the office with full intentions of sharing… I did share, a little. A rib for you, and a rib for you, and the rest for me.
“Fall-off-the-bone” is a phrase thrown around a lot when describing barbeque, but I can think of no four words more fitting for the smoky goodness that came in that Jimbo’s takeout box. It went from lunch to a full-on barbeque experience when I tried it with their homemade barbeque sauce (which they keep hot all day). It was equal parts tangy and sweet with just enough spice to make things interesting. The mac and cheese stood out as well. Strings of real cheese were ribboned in (seemingly strategically for max flavor) within the noodles and creamy sauce.
And then, there was the apple pie. The warm, gooey, not-too-sweet apple filling was hugged by a flaky crust. The pie is served with a side of cider sauce which adds any sweetness your missing. A fork full of that pie with a dab of cider sauce is probably the most perfect bite of apple pie I’ve ever had (outside of yours, of course, Nanny). The whole lunch was ten out of ten – would recommend.
As I finished my lunch, I thought back to what Traci had said earlier, “We haven’t changed much over the last 50 years – it’s kind of crazy, but it works.”
Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q
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