Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield. Photographed by Thomas Roberts.
From a small trailer in a parking lot at 25th and Main Streets in Richmond, Ronnie Logan serves some of the tastiest ribs, health smoked chicken wings, purchase pork barbeque and beef brisket you may have ever eaten. They’re so good the Varina resident will be featured in a Food Network show airing in June.
But before reaching today’s success, Ronnie overcame debt and job loss. He says he wants his food to make everyone feel at home, regardless of their past or current challenges, and he hopes his personal story gives others hope. “I consider myself a regular guy,” he says. “There’s ain’t nothing special about me, and stuff I’ve been through, stuff I’ve faced, I believe other people go through.”
Born in Varina, Ronnie insisted on living with his grandmother as a small boy because his father’s military career required frequent moves. His dad Harold was a gifted cook, and for awhile owned a pretzel cart and sub shop in Philadelphia.
When Ronnie’s grandmother became ill, his parents moved back to Varina. Ronnie often joined his father at a grill the man had specially made. After marrying Julia and starting his own family, Ronnie kept on cooking. From catering Boy Scout banquets to hosting cookouts with the Little League team he coached, Ronnie makes clear, “I always barbequed and I always cooked.”
As the Logans raised their sons, Ron and Darryl, Ronnie says he remembered some advice he’d once heard: “If you go someplace that’s not becoming for your kids, it probably isn’t good for you either. They used to go everywhere I went. If you saw me, you saw two other heads in the truck.”
But the family wasn’t immune to financial difficulty. A lifelong member of Antioch Baptist Church on New Market Rd., Ronnie says, “I’m a Christian man. Over the years, when me and the wife started, we didn’t have anything. I got in a lot of debt. I used to sit up and worry on it. What I did was I started studying Biblical principles on debt. We didn’t get in it overnight, so we weren’t going to get out of it overnight. But we believed that God could deliver us and we followed his principles. It’s not easy, but you can get through some stuff with faith, and if you work hard.”
He was employed as a facilities manager for a large company, but successive buyouts of the company were making him nervous. He came to a decision: “From that day on, I started a little lawn care service. Then I started a little janitorial service. You’ve always got to have something. God gave me the responsibility to take care of my family. He didn’t give [a job] that responsibility.”
He still cooked every chance he got. When his son took some ribs to work, a co-worker ordered for a party of 95 people. “All I had was a little backyard grill,” Ronnie remembers. “I couldn’t do but five slabs at a time. I stayed up all night and cooked all of it.”
Then in 2007, after 29 years, Ronnie lost his job when the company closed its doors for good. After 31 years with her employer, his wife was laid off when her company closed not long after. For two years, he’d been eyeing a professional grade smoker. Within a week of his lay-off, he ordered it. “I said I’m going for it. I’m going to swing as hard as I can,” he recalls thinking. Ronnie’s Ribs, Wings & Other Things was born.
He enrolled in a business course offered by the city. “One of the things they say is you’ve got to find that niche. I believe our niche is that little trailer down there in that empty parking lot. What surprised me so much now, is how everybody’s coming back to help me – all my friends and my sons.”
Ronnie enjoys working with Darryl and Ron, who are now 27 and 31. Ronnie’s Ribs is open Thursday through Sunday and his cooking can draw a crowd. A recent customer was Delilah Winder, Richmond native, chef and cookbook author who was tapped by Oprah Winfrey for having the nation’s best macaroni and cheese. When producers of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” put the question to Delilah, she hailed Ronnie’s ribs and his fate for the show was sealed.
“This whole thing, you can see God in it,” Ronnie says. “Who in the world ever heard of that after being in business after one year?”
He’s not shy about sharing his premiere ingredient: “L-O-V-E. I think your attitude conveys into the food. And we love people, the whole group that works with me. I’ve got a beautiful bunch of guys and girls that work with me.”
“Anybody who comes here, I don’t care what you’ve done or what you’re doing, you’re a person to me,” Ronnie says. “I’m not foolish. I can discern if you don’t mean me any good, [and] I don’t deal with you. But I’m not going to hate you. Everybody who comes here, I want them to feel at home and comfortable. They can come and meet friends and talk and socialize.”
To others who might be struggling, Ronnie emphasizes, “You aren’t the only one going through this. The word of God says seek wise counsel. You’ve just got to get with some folks who’ve been through some stuff and they can help you. I believe there’s more good folk out here than bad. You’re not out here by yourself.”