JT’s ribs finger lickin’ good

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Surrounded by a mix of restaurants, some falling by the wayside while others are holding their own, JT’s Rib Shack seems to be flourishing. On a recent Wednesday evening, customers of all kinds flocked to the 11814 Frankstown Rd. establishment taking out wings, ribs, seafood, side orders and desserts.

“We’re just blessed,” said James R. Taylor Jr., waving to a Penn Hills police officer complimenting him “on another great meal.” Celebrating their first year anniversary, Taylor says that it’s because of God and his staff that he is surviving when longtime restaurants like King’s are closing their doors. Pointing to the vacant building where the family eatery served the community for more than 23 years, Taylor says he is cognizant of the perils of the industry. “The three previous businesses operating at this location didn’t last a year. That means we have to be on top of our game.”

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GOOD TO THE BONE—The husband and wife team of Vicky and James Taylor prepare a takeout order of ribs at JT’s Rib Shack.

On top of the game for JT’s means providing super customer service and consistency in the food. “We like what we do and respect our customers,” says Taylor’s wife and co-owner, Vicky. The couple agrees that the customers are like family because they have many repeat clients. “We are here to please them,” she said.

Along with the Penn Hills police they say their clientele is very diverse and inclusive of area Emergency Medical Services personal and state police. He goes as far as saying that he knows many of his customer’s orders before they place them. The Taylors say they strive to be loyal and provide their customers with the best, fast and satisfying service possible.

Prior to entering the restaurant business, James and Vicky worked within the service industry for 20 years. He with Lucent Technology and she advanced through the ranks of Verizon. Both left in management positions. They say their previous careers prepared them to provide the service they consider most essential for the success of their business.

Taylor says having good and committed help also contributes to the success of JT’s. “I can’t thank the staff enough for the quality of service they provide,” he says.  Other than he and his wife, the staff consists of Sharlene Ricketts, Jackie Thompson, Ryan Taylor, also the artist who painted JT’s mural and signs, and Chef Anthony Mosco.

“Mosco puts a different twist on our food,” points out Taylor. “He is a five-star Italian gourmet chef.” He says gourmet cuisine is just one of the unique aspects of the business. Available Wednesdays and Fridays, dishes include broiled salmon with crabmeat and garlic butter, chicken shrimp alfredo, chicken shrimp romano, shrimp scampi, crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed hot banana peppers with sausage or bread stuffing and a chicken spezzitini to die for. As the aromas fill the dining area, he says there’s not a Black- owned restaurant around that specializes in such gourmet dishes.

A self-taught entrepreneur, James says he learned a lot from his dad who owned four bars, a beer distributorship and a laundromat in the Hill District. “I worked with him from the age of 13,” he said. “That’s where I learned to cook ribs.” Reflecting, he says his business started at least seven years ago on a small scale as a caterer.

“I’m really grateful to my buddy, Fran Grabowski. It all began by catering a Christmas party for his business. He not only encouraged me to start my business, but became an investor. I’m thankful to him for his backing and support. He also credits his family for assisting in making JT’s a reality and successful so far. “My parents, James and Patricia, and sister, Toni, have been a tremendous help,” he said

Still catering, he says no job is too small or too big, mentioning that he just catered a funeral that afternoon and during the weekend he served an event of more than 400 people. “We are equipped to handle all types of events,” he said.

Not letting the negative reports about the economy affect his thinking or goals for the restaurant, Taylor says in the future he would like to operate other rib shacks in the region and then expand into surrounding states. He says with the continued consistency of the staff and the support of the customers like the lady encouraging him to participate in next year’s Hoodie Awards in Las Vegas sponsored by Steve Harvey, he knows his dreams will come true.

(Orders can be placed by calling 412-793-6264.)

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