It’s the wings.
Ask the Mellody family to name the one thing that has made Beef O’ Brady’s so popular and they’ll tell you it’s their mouthwatering, dripping-with-Buffalo-sauce chicken wings.
Back in the early 80s, their resourceful father, Jim Mellody, spent months in the back room of the original restaurant on Kings Avenue tweaking the recipe that would become his secret weapon. He’d add a dash of paprika for spice and a touch of cayenne pepper for heat. Some garlic powder for flavor and flour for substance. He was about to unleash a culinary masterpiece.
That was back when Mr. Mellody’s Irish pub was pumping out steaks. Back before Beef’s was a household name and way before they had 200-plus restaurants stretched across 22 states.
But more importantly, that was when Mr. Mellody was still alive.
It was 1985 when Beef O’ Brady’s first opened its doors to the Brandon community. It was his fourth attempt to start a successful restaurant business; he was 20 years into the game before he converted a tiny strip mall space a few blocks off Brandon Boulevard.
The year before, Jody Reed, a Brandon High School baseball standout had signed with the Boston Red Sox and the town was buzzing. Mr. Mellody knew patrons would want to watch Reed so he bought a satellite and invited them to watch the former Eagle. Little by little, he added more and more televisions, slowly gathering a following.
“He was here everyday from day one in 1985 to about 1989,” says Sean, Mr. Mellody’s youngest son. “He’d be taking orders out front and going back there with (manager) Becky (Fraser). It was pretty much a one man show.”
Just like pubs in his hometown of Scranton, Pa, Mr. Mellody created a community that everyone could enjoy. From sports fans to little leaguers, the area’s first family sports pub was born.
But the consistency wasn’t there. His menu was always changing and the restaurant was regularly deserted. Manager Becky Fraser remembers Mr. Mellody would pace the floors during lunch. Those were days when $30 in the afternoon was decent, she said.
He considered selling the joint when a local man offered him $30,000, but he held firm.
Mr. Mellody knew he was onto something, but needed something the likes of which no one had ever seen.
That’s where the wings came in.
“The way the story goes, my dad had my mom try them,” says Sean. “He told her to dip the wing in blue cheese and she looked at him like ‘you’re crazy, what are you talking about. It’s just some chicken, sauce and blue cheese.’ But she tried it and she said, ‘if you can get people in the store.’ I’ve tried wings from all over and it’s just unbelievable. Nothing compares.”
With a solid selling point bundled in a plastic basket, the Beef’s name took off. Mr. Mellody – though skeptical – would soon open several more restaurants across the Great Brandon and Tampa region.
“He always had a dream of expanding but I remember he was very scared to open the second store in Bell Shoals,” says son Jim. “He never thought past the one successful store.”
Mr. Mellody wouldn’t live to see the Beef O’ Brady’s name reach states like Colorado or Iowa. He died in November 2002. Before he passed away, Mr. Mellody sold the name to a corporate entity. The same corporation purchased the remainder of the business from Mellody’s wife and spread Beef’s all across the nation.
“All the stores that are doing well, it’s because they got it from the Original,” says Sean. “When you walk in the door, they know your name they know what you want to drink. All the Beef’s that are doing well take that principle and it’s all from what my dad started at this store.”
The Mellody’s still operate nine stores, including the Original, which has changed very little since its inception. Sure, it’s nearly doubled in size and the Boston Red Sox gear has been changed to Tampa Bay teams. But the relaxed personality that exudes from the Original, the same atmosphere that has been replicated hundreds of time over the past few decades, is still the way it was when it opened in 1985. And the Mellody family wouldn’t have it any other way.
“No matter how many stores we build, we can’t duplicate the years, the people and the personalities who have been in there,” says Jim. “The regulars who are there, the memories that that store has; these new stores can have a ton of brand new and bigger and brighter stuff but there’s 24 years in that store.”
Outside the Mellody family, no one has been involved with the Original Beef O’ Brady’s as long as Becky Fraser. Now a manager of the restaurant, Becky start shortly after the place opened in 1985, helping founder Jim Mellody in any way she could. Becky sat down to talk about the beginning and her time with Mr. Mellody.
How did you end up working at Beef’s?
I came by here through Florida Job Service, which used to be next door here, and one of the gentleman I was interviewing with said ‘there’s a little family shop right around the corner.’ So I came over here and Jim Mellody was over here and I talked to him and told him I just had a newborn baby and my ex-husband had broken his arm and I needed to find work right away. I had some food service experience and he gave me a job. At the time I asked him for $5 so I could get gas money to make it back to work and I thought that was just awesome that I could talk to someone, explain my situation and he was just very passionate and concerned. And I got back to work the next day.
What’s one thing you remember about Mr. Mellody?
He seemed like he was very stern on the outside but he was a very sincere person on the inside and I was totally amazed at the amount of things he was involved with in his life.
Some people say Sean was a lot like him. Do you agree with that?
Yes I do. They love to procrastinate. (laughs) They just have this born-with-eye for business. They’re very capable of it.
What sticks out in your mind when you think about the beginning?
I remember that we were starting to do chicken wings and Jim served them with blue cheese and celery and each day I would have to cut up one gallon on celery sticks. And when we started using more than one gallon I thought ‘Wow that is a lot of celery.’ It just seemed like the quantity of food at that time, we go through a ton of food now with 225 stores, and at that time, it just seems so miniscule now.
How does it make you feel knowing you’ve been here for 24 years?
It seems like time has kind of flown by but I feel like it’s a great sense of accomplishment. I feel like I have also left a mark in my evolution of helping the restaurant grow and survive. A lot of my ideas and things I developed here at the Original store are still used today, I just have a great sense of accomplishment. It’s like those are all my babies out there.
266 The number of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s locations nationwide
9 The number of Beef’s still under the control of the Mellody family
23 The number of states that have a Beef’s franchise
12 The number of Buffalo styles Beef’s uses to make its wings: mild, medium, hot, extra hot, nuclear, honey BBQ, garlic, teriyaki, sweet jalapeno, kickin’ BBQ, Garlic Parmesan and chipotle lime
2 million The number of chicken wings Beef’s says it sells each week.
8 billion The National Chicken Council estimates that more than 8 billion chicken wings are consumed in the United States each year.
1 billion More than 1 billion wings are consumed during Super Bowl weekend alone. That’s more than 90 million pounds of wings.