She was the senior lady “with the long white hair.”
If the flagship Shorty’s BBQ on South Dixie Highway in Kendall is a true Miami story, built by E.L. “Shorty” Allen in 1951 and rebuilt after a 1972 fire and yet again 20 years later after Hurricane Andrew plowed through South Miami-Dade, long-time waitress Ann Gray was its face and personality.
Like the prized barbecue sauce slathered on Shorty’s brisket and ribs, Gray, who died Monday at 91 in South Miami, was feisty, peppery and memorable.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without someone pulling her aside and talking to her,” said her nephew Marvin Taylor.
That’s because every regular customer at Shorty’s seemed to know her — and over the years they have included everyone from Miami Dolphins like Don Shula and Dan Marino to the busy soccer mom with a brood of hungry kids to executives from the nearby Datran Center office towers.
Gray’s tenure at Shorty’s spanned more than four decades — exactly how long, no one seems certain. General Manager Chuck Housen, who has been with Shorty’s for more than 30 years, figures Gray started sometime in the 1960s. Her granddaughter puts the date around the time the fire happened in 1972. They all agree that she worked steadily at Shorty’s until about five years ago, at age 86, when a fall in the kitchen fractured her hip.
“She loved people and loved to make people feel good,” said granddaughter Nicole Gottleib. “She enjoyed the customers and the fast pace and she was feisty and always well put together.”
Born in Kentucky on Jan. 12, 1924, and raised in Indiana, Gray moved to the South Miami area in 1954 and worked as a retail buyer in the clothing and jewelry field until she retired. “That retirement lasted not for long,” Gottlieb said. Shorty’s, which serves up some 300 pounds of ribs a day, proved too enticing.
“She did all the yard work and all the gardening even up to five years ago,” Gottlieb said. “She was a very active person and that’s why she loved Shorty’s. She was always busy.”
Customers still ask for Gray, Housen said. “If they don’t remember her name, it’s ‘the lady with the white hair.’ Besides having a lot of regular customers who came to see her, she used to get a little irritated — in a good way — when others would ask, ‘How long have you been working here?’ She would get that so many times a day.
“The little kids, 3, 4, 5, for some reason, were fascinated by her,” Housen added. “They just loved to have her.”
As for that trademark hair: “That was the color of her hair,” her granddaughter said. “Since she was a child she had that white hair.”
In addition to Gottlieb, Gray is survived by her daughter Lynda Anderson, granddaughter Ashlee Dozier and great-grandchildren Tyler, Carter and Ryder. No services are planned.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.