Edward Louis “Shorty” Allen built a South Florida dining institution one rib at a time.
The Georgia native, who came to South Florida in the 1940s and drove a meat-delivery truck, opened the original Shorty’s Bar BQ “stand’’ in 1951, and ran it until 1980, when he sold it.
By the time he died April 21 at age 104, Shorty’s was a five-restaurant chain in three counties, modeled on the first iconic log cabin-style eatery at 9200 S. Dixie Hwy. in Kendall.
Destroyed in a 1972 fire, it rose again at the original site. The new owners opened branches in Davie, Boca Raton, Doral and West Miami-Dade.
Over the years, down-home menu staples like ribs, chicken, slaw and corn won “best-of’’ mentions in Money, Gourmet and Ocean Drive magazines, and Miami New Times.
Picnic tables, a family-friendly ambiance and marketing gimmicks like “members only’’ specials and “two-for-one low price’’ coupons, built a loyal clientele that spans generations.
A 1982 Miami Herald story said that “a walk into Shorty’s barbecue restaurant is like a walk into the old West. On the walls of the open-air, pavilion-style restaurant hang harnesses and an assortment of boots and other cowboy memorabilia. Faithful Shorty’s customers gave them to original owner Shorty Allen.’’
This was Shorty’s vision, little changed by time or new ownership.
A 2005 story likened the place to “a summer camp mess tent with long, wooden picnic tables on concrete floors. Utensils are plastic. Napkins are rolls of paper towels. At each place setting an open brown bag awaits the deposit of gnawed ribs and chicken bones.’’
Allen, who lived in Miami and Marathon before moving to Stuart in 2000, had another place before the Shorty’s everyone knows — also called Shorty’s, also with folksy decor and barbecue, at 28001 S. Dixie Hwy.
Allen sold it in 1960 to Virgil Shiver, who renamed it for himself.
Allen, born in April 1909, died in hospice care in Stuart, where he’d been living since 2000. In South Florida, he had homes in Miami and Marathon, where he was active in the First Baptist Church.
Miami native Jill Sullivan, of Charlotte, N.C., recalled going to work for Allen and his son, known as “E.L.,’’ when the restaurant reopened after the fire.
“Terri — Shorty’s granddaughter — and I had a horse at the same barn,’’ she said. E.L.’s wife called Terri to say that the place was so packed that Terri should grab Jill and head for the restaurant to help.
“In the beginning, the line never stopped,’’ Sullivan said.
Shorty — she said he was about 5-foot-5 — stopped in from time to time in those days, letting his son and other relatives run the place.
Sullivan said she still goes there when she’s in Miami, “and it’s still the best barbecue there is. North Carolina got nothing on Shorty’s.’’
Allen was married for 50 years to Dorothy Irene Allen. After she died, he was married for 28 years to Sharon Allen, who survives.
A private service was held Wednesday in Miami.
The family requests memorial donations to Treasure Coast Hospice, 1201 SE Indian St., Stuart, FL 34997.