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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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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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