Dunedin Barbecue Legend Elijah 'Eli' Crawford Dies

The owner and creator of Dunedin's most loved barbecue stand passed away Thursday, March 14.

A white poster board with hand-scrawled messages hangs next to a cotton plant that Elijah "Eli" Crawford tended on the side of his barbecue joint.

The poster bears sad news.

The longtime owner of Eli's Bar B Que, Dunedin's favorite roadside barbecue stand, passed away Thursday.

Crawford was 71.

A permanent marker is attached to the poster board announcing his passing. Friends and customers are encouraged to leave handwritten notes as a celebration of his life.

Crawford, of Clearwater, came to the Tampa area in 1967 and worked several years as a butcher. He opened a small barbecue cart on Highland Avenue in Clearwater before moving it to its permanent location in Dunedin.

There, the iconic barbecue shack became a Dunedin landmark at the corner of Skinner Boulevard and the Pinellas Trail.

Crawford loved seeing people smile from eating his food. 

Smoke could be seen billowing from the pit house as early as Wednesday so Crawford could prepare to serve customers on Fridays and Saturdays only.

Since creating the walk-up restaurant in the late 1990s, people from across Tampa Bay flocked there to sit on the picnic tables under oak trees while enjoying a taste of his barbecue. A line of hungry patrons would often fill the front and nearly spill onto Skinner Boulevard.

He converted the barbecue stand out of a former ice cream shop. He refurbished the kitchen and built the outdoor screened “shack” behind the restaurant known as the "Big Foot" grill house, where he spent most of his time.

Over the years his barbecue was featured as a favorite in most major Tampa Bay area news outlets.

A February 2011 story in Dunedin Patch reports how his childhood experiences fostered his love for making good barbecue. 

Crawford developed a fondness for barbecue as a kid growing up in Valdosta, Ga., in what he calls the barbecue belt. With his seven brothers and seven sisters, Crawford recalls helping his parents make homegrown feasts centered around barbecue. When he was 17, he worked for a corner market where he learned how to transform a hog into sausage.

In recent years, Crawford began training Eric Davis, like a surrogate son, to take over as head pit master. 

“When I step back and Eric takes over, I’ll still be around. I won’t disappear," Crawford told Patch in February 2011. "This place is a big part of my life.”

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Dave Pauley March 18, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Eli added his own special flavor to Dunedin and aren't we blessed for it.
Lucy Lynch March 18, 2013 at 01:38 PM
Sad news. He will be missed.
Kyle Cothran March 18, 2013 at 02:28 PM
He will be missed! I used to love to smell the smoke from the grill house drift over my neighborhood when I lived near downtown Dunedin.
James T Bryson March 18, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Thank you Eli for being a beacon of individual character in the slow-food world of BBQ. You were an oasis.
Stacy Jones March 18, 2013 at 04:00 PM
I met Eli through his beloved wife Veronica (Roni) working at Pinellas County Development Review Services. Eli treated his wife with the same love and care he cooked his BBQ. (RIP) Eli with that great big smile and kind nature. You will be missed by all who knew you and loved you! Stacy Jones, Dunedin
jerry selkow March 18, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Though I live for many years in Dunedin, I never really got to know the person behind the story. Eli pictured appears to be a kind, gentle soul. Truly a credit and asset to the Dunedin community. What Eli created will continue on and will always be a memorial. Jerry Selkow
Julie Ward Bujalski March 18, 2013 at 04:25 PM
He will be greatly missed! Dunedin wouldn't be the same without Eli's contribution. My family's prayers and thoughts are with the family.
Arlene V March 18, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Dunedin has lost an icon - Eli will be missed by all who enjoyed not only his BBQ but his wonderful spirit and zest for life!!! RIP and God Bless your family
Lori March 18, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Eli...You have a special place at the right hand of the Lord...Anyone who knew you was better for it....Thoughts and prayers to your family...
morris hensley March 18, 2013 at 05:08 PM
So sorry to here this news. Eli was an icon in the neighborhood. God bless his family during this sad time.
Bert Halle March 18, 2013 at 06:44 PM
I remember talking with Eli about his food and how proud he was to put his special touch and heart into it. God bless you for you certainly blessed us.
mchrisreese March 18, 2013 at 07:46 PM
Eli's BBQ and all that it represents are part of the reason we are seriously considering a move to Dunedin. RIP.
Ron Barnette March 18, 2013 at 08:30 PM
Oh, how very special has Eli's contibution been to Dunedin! Whenever I show a guest around our town, Eli's BBQ is a must on the list. One only hopes that his legacy will live on, as we'll be reminded of Eli when we smell that wonderful trailside aroma. I remember many conversations we had about Valdosta, where he grew up, as I taught at Valdosta State University for 30 years before retiring in Dunedin. One of my favorite BBQ places there was Mitchell's BBQ, and Eli knew that place well. I will always remember fondly his broad smile as we talked...with him inside his wonderful smoke-filled den, and with me standing outside, savoring the aroma and trying to condition myself to the blasts of heavenly smoke that signaled the delicious food served in front. I smell that Eli treat now! He will be missed greatly.
Barbara Read March 19, 2013 at 12:42 AM
Eli your barbeque was the best I've eaten since leaving TN in 1993. You will be missed and my thoughts are with your family.
Cherisse Worlds March 19, 2013 at 01:11 AM
Eli was my uncle. I started with him when we were just a symbol under a tent on Highland in Clearwater. I recall when he announced we were moving to a little small building in Duendin. I was so happy to have something to protect us from the rain. As the years went on I moved behind the scenes for others to smile and greet icustomers. I will miss him more than one will know. Eli has passion for what he was doing and if you had a chance to know him your life would forever be changed. RIP Uncle Eli.
PROEDGEBIKER.COM March 19, 2013 at 01:49 AM
SAD! one of my favorite places growing up and a pit stop for my wife & I after a long bike ride, he will be missed... RIP
Rukavina March 19, 2013 at 02:59 AM
You will be missed.....cotton picking time....
valerievalerie March 19, 2013 at 03:35 AM
Words can't express the bubbly personality Mr Eli had...his will to keep moving forward. I no longer live there but I can tell you...he will truly be missed. He was one of kind Ms Mississippi!!
John Dolac March 19, 2013 at 11:29 PM
So sorry for your loss. He was a very friendly man and his barbeque... the best.
Marilyn Mills March 20, 2013 at 01:47 PM
So sorry to hear of Mr. Eli's passing. You and your family wll be in our thoughts and prayers, Veronica. Remember that this is not the end, that goodbye doesn't last forever, and that eyes that have closed will open again. Marilyn and Bruce(friends of Gladys and Vince)
Candace M BROOKS March 20, 2013 at 05:23 PM
I had the blessing of meeting Eli through my beautiful sister Roni some years ago. Roni and I were hanging out just about every weekend, than I notice that she all of a sudden started becoming too busy to hang out with her girl because she had a special someone she was starting to spend time with and it was no longer me and her. :) I now had to get use to sharing her with someone else "Eli" that all she talked about...:) She said that she wanted me to meet him, after we met I said to Roni that" he looked like a Zeek to me "whatever that is... I soon after saw why Roni was so smitten wth him . I found myself falling for him to .He was very sweet ,charming,loving ,gentle,and very FUNNY . Not only that he had the heart for people that GOD says that we are to have for one another... A heart that gives looking for nothing in return... In all of that he loved and cared for my sister (Roni) dearly. I thank GOD for blessing me with such a wonderful coolbeans BROTHER ,and for the time that GOD allowed us to have with the marvelous work of HIS holy hands... I love you Zeek with all my heart. Your sister in the love of CHRIST. Candace
Shari Harmon March 20, 2013 at 10:27 PM
We are so sorry to hear your sad news. Wishing you and your family peace at this time of sorrow. Our thoughts are with you. My husband and I always enjoyed chatting with Mr. Eli him when we came for his delicious BBQ. We will miss his smile and charming personality. He will be greatly missed by the local community. We have taken the smoked sausage to friends and family in North Carloina, Maryland and Texas when we travel. It has always been a great treat every time we have had the sausage, ribs or pork... it's all great! Shari & Ron Harmon
Tricia March 26, 2013 at 03:35 AM
Besides enjoying the mouth-watering smoked delights from Eli's Bar-B-Que, I will remember running into him at the grocery store buying cases of bread, cabbage, onions, etc.- on Thursdays. He was a kind spirit and he loved the Lord. How nice for him to be in Heaven but how sad for us left behind. He was considerate enough to train Eric Davis so we can continue to enjoy Eli's Heavenly Smoked Bar-B-Que but we will miss his gentle presence. RIP Eli


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