2785 Larkspur Avenue, Baton Rouge, LA 70805
For most people, inhaling the remnants of yesterday’s barbecue smoke first thing in the morning is not the ideal way to start the day. But for Carlos Thomas, owner of Memphis Mac BBQ, the smell is invigorating. He clarifies that his restaurant is not “a part of the barbecue bakery system” which involves “putting barbecue seasoning on meat, baking it and calling it barbecue. That is not barbecue.” The smoke, he tells me, is what separates authentic barbecue from the imposters.
Thomas opened Memphis Mac in February 2020 after his family returned to Baton Rouge from Los Angeles where he had worked as a professor at the University of Southern California teaching data science and operations management.
Only weeks after it opened, COVID would force the restaurant to close its doors and Thomas to adapt. He began shipping orders across the country, and locally, the restaurant started selling barbecue meats and sides by the slab, pound, and dozen on Saturdays.
After teaching at the college level since 2000, opening a restaurant would prove to be a unique challenge that Thomas likens to obtaining a third PhD. While he enjoys the freedom it affords and the ability to set his own schedule, the true gift of Memphis Mac has been the opportunity to help people. Thomas knew from the beginning that he wanted to employ people who have had legal troubles in the past, but deserved a fresh start. For him, Memphis Mac was never just about making great food, it was always about the chance “to give people an opportunity who may have been marginalized or overlooked because of the challenges they had earlier.” With that goal in mind he has built not only a growing business, but a second family with his colleagues. When asked about the downsides of being a business owner, Thomas does not dwell on the negatives, but cites managing personalities and the unpredictability of food prices among the challenges.
Memphis Mac is located on Larkspur Avenue just across from the Exxon refinery’s south gates which provides consistent lunchtime business, but Thomas has plans to expand to the southern part of the parish. The restaurant has gotten positive feedback after doing pop-ups around town. In Baton Rouge, Thomas observes, “People love to eat and will pay good money for good food,” but he emphasizes that the food must be good.
When the topic shifts to libraries, Thomas’ passion becomes evident. He calls East Baton Rouge Parish Libraries “second to none” and describes them as, “a focal point for my family since my kids were born.” A self-described egghead, Thomas knows the importance of having a “robust library system that provides opportunities for everyone” and he applauds EBRPL for the role it serves in the community.
In his precious spare time, Carlos Thomas serves as a mentor for the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition and cherishes time spent cooking for his family and discussing current events with his wife.
When asked to offer advice to new and aspiring entrepreneurs, Thomas urges them to “Do what you love because every day is not a good day. You have to be in love with the endeavor.”
Visit Memphis Mac for lunch Tuesday – Saturday from 10:30am to 2:30pm or call to inquire about catering. Holiday catering will also be available this year, so get your pre-orders in early!
Interview by Karla D. Stewart