The first meal Tony Bryant ever cooked was when he was 6 years old and was accidentally left at home alone.
“My mom and my sister got dressed to go to church on Easter, but I didn’t have church shoes to wear, so mom told me to go to my grandmother’s house next door,” Bryant said.
Basically, his grandmother thought he was with his mother, and his mother thought he was with his grandmother.
“I was home alone,” he said.
Knowing they would come home from church hungry, Bryant went to work cooking an Easter feast.
“I cooked fried chicken, and corn and instant potatoes, but didn’t have enough milk,” he said.
When they got home, his sister could smell what he had been up to.
“My sister came in and said ‘something smells good,’” Bryant said. “I didn’t burn myself or the house. We ate it. My mother had to get the mashed potatoes together for me.”
Bryant’s cooking has come a long way since then. In fact, he is now the proud owner of Trifecta BBQ on St. Clair.
Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Bryant started cooking barbeque while living in St. Louis, Missouri, with his then-wife and three children.
“St. Louis is a big barbecue town,” he said. “And, my wife had family in Kansas City and Memphis. I would have cookoffs with family members.”
He would learn tips from family members and friends during the cookoffs, and when his best friend moved to Texas, Bryant discovered what would end up being his specialty dish — turkey ribs.
“He was cooking barbecue at car shows and events, and he taught me about turkey ribs,” he said. “I had never heard of them. The first time I tried them, I wasn’t impressed, but he sold out of them that day. I went back down there and tried them a second time and they knocked my socks off.”
He said the taste of turkey ribs is unlike any other meat.
“Majority of people grill them, but I lightly bread them and deep-fry them.”
Bryant said the ribs don’t need a sauce, but his Carolina Tangy sauce pairs well with it.
Bryant has created four signature sauces Carolina Tangy, WTF (Wow That’s Fiery), Yes Lawd, which is sweet, and Awesome Sauce, a sweet barbecue sauce with a little heat.
Bryant said Awesome Sauce seems to be his top seller. He said it became popular at his first restaurant in Versailles.
People like the level of heat, he said. “It’s just enough to know there’s some spice in there.”
Coming to Kentucky
When Bryant first moved to Kentucky in 2015, he worked at a factory in Versailles.
“I wasn’t pleased with my job, so I quit and set up my grill in a parking lot near the factory and employees would come eat lunch.”
Shortly after, he opened a restaurant in Versailles, and had thoughts about expanding.
“A lot of people tasted my food and said Frankfort needed something like what I offer.”
In 2018, after Mai Saigon closed on St. Clair Street, he came to Frankfort to buy equipment from the owners. He ended up talking to the landlord and decided it would be a good fit for him to move into the vacant restaurant space.
“It was a smart move because of the location, and Frankfort just really welcomed us,” he said. He opened the Frankfort location in March 2019. He had to close the Versailles location at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In mid-March, Bryant had to lock down the Frankfort restaurant and lay off his employees. In mid-April, he started offering curbside, which he operated alone.
“It took off like a rocket,” he said.
He was so busy, he employed three teenagers who he was mentoring at the time.
“They turned out to be some of the best employees I have ever had,” he said. “They know how to handle themselves in the kitchen and on the business side.”
Bryant said he has always been drawn to kids. When his kids were young, he would treat them and all of the neighborhood kids to a trip to Six Flags.
“I’ve been called the Pied Piper because I get along with kids,” he said. “I’ve been able to relate to kids. I just love watching them learn. When you see that light come on, I know I’ve done my job.”
One of the main messages that Bryant tries to convey to those he mentors is not to take no for an answer.
“You have to crawl before you walk,” he said. “This has been a humbling journey. There have been lots of times where people discredit my food and it’s just out of spite. Keep moving forward.”
Bryant said when he was coming of age, there were certain jobs he couldn’t have because of the color of his skin and education, but that’s not true now for younger black generations if they’re willing to apply themselves and ask for help along the way.
“I hope to see in the future more small and large black businesses,” he said.
Along with being a mentor to local children, Bryant also likes to give back by donating meals to the homeless. When the pandemic hit, Bryant knew the homeless were having a hard time getting food.
“I had a well-known homeless guy gather everyone up and we fed them,” he said. “I like to do that type of stuff, because someone helped me one time. I was homeless for a week once. I try to give back whenever I can.”
Awesome Sauce recipe
½ gallon of a sweet barbecue sauce as a base
1 stick of butter
¼ cup of minced garlic
24 ounces of cheap beer
¼ cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of hot mustard
Mix ingredients together and cook on low for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
For a little zing, toss in Sriracha sauce to taste. Awesome Sauce is good served on ribs, pulled pork, pulled chicken, brisket and more.