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Our History

McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Q: an 86-year family tradition

McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Q & Seafood is an 86-year family tradition in the McCray family.

Originally Harvey’s Barbecue in West Palm Beach, the barbecue joint became a staple in the community and a landmark during segregation. The original location was on 7th Street and North Tamarind Avenue. Although the lot now sits empty, the history created from the pit master himself, Harvey McCray, created a legacy still going strong today.

Herman C. McCray Jr., worked at his Uncle Harvey’s place as a young boy and a teenager. After the place was sold, Big Herman started selling his own barbecue, and from there, the rest – as they say, is history!

Rev. Herman C. McCray, Jr., founded McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Q in Riviera Beach after working for years with his uncle, Harvey McCray.

Big Herman was a civil rights leader, Air Force veteran and member of the 101st Airborne Division, and assistant pastor at Greater Bethel primitive Baptist Church in Riviera Beach. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1959 and fought to keep it from closing in 1970 when it became a middle school. As president of the Youth Recreation Association, he helped organize Young Entrepreneurs to teach business to students at Suncoast High School.

Herman became the first supervisor of sanitation for the city of Riviera Beach, an outstanding position to fill as the first African-American to hold that post in the state of Florida.  He also became the first African-American to work as a ticket agent for the Greyhound bus company.

McCray’s Backyard Bar-B-Q was opened as a family barbecue restaurant where his aim was to help to provide meals for the sick and shut-in, the elderly, and the homeless.

His contributions in both business and the community reached the halls of Congress in Washington D.C. when Rep. Kendrick Meek called McCray a “humble servant” and “driving force in the fight for civil and equal rights for citizens in Palm Beach County.”

In 2010, Palm Beach County Commissioners honored McCray by dedicating a bridge on Congress Avenue, connecting West Palm Beach with Riviera Beach.  The sign on the bridge reads, “Herman C. McCray Jr. Bridge – A true bridge builder.”  The Congress Avenue Bridge was not dedicated for his tasty ribs, but for his tireless efforts to fight for civil rights.

On April 16, 2013, at the age of 72 Herman passed, and his wife of 51 years, Lillian, followed only two years after, on July 29, 2015, at the age of 69.  The family business was passed on to his son, Derrick.

Derrick attended Florida A&M University where he played football, and from there he went to Los Angeles and worked professionally with Dick Clark, Suzanne DePasse, Boyz II Men, The American Music Awards, Berry Gordy and others in the entertainment industry.

Life in California was glamorous, but it was not easy. The temptations in the entertainment industry led Derrick down a path of drugs and alcohol. “I’m a real person who has had failures,” said Derrick. He added that through Jesus Christ he was able to overcome those issues. “I had to get right with God in order for me to do what I am doing now.” He is a faithful tither who has prayer at 6 a.m. each morning. “This is a God thing,” said Derrick.

Derrick McCray has already made a name for himself and his barbecue. His family-owned business has been around for decades, and he is known for catering big sports events, including recent Super Bowls. His expertise and experience on the grill also earned him the position as a judge on the Discovery Channel’s television show Holy Smokes.

Through all the years, McCray says it is the fact that they have not changed the way they make the barbecue that’s what’s kept them in business.

“The way we cook has remained the same with wood and open pit fire,” he said. “We’re been able to preserve the integrity of the art-form of barbecue.”

In 2019, McCrays Backyard Bar-B-Q opened its new building on 45th Street, franchising the delicious signature sauces, packaging ribs, “and carrying on my daddy’s legacy,” said Derrick.

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