The Brick Pit, a small west Mobile barbecue joint whose cuisine was beloved by many, is getting new lease on life.
New owners are renovating the building on Old Shell Road, a stone’s throw from the University of South Alabama campus, with an eye to reopening it later this year. One said they plan to bring back the same pit masters and kitchen staff who helped make it a local favorite.
The Brick Pit was synonymous for more than 20 years with owner/operator Bill Armbrecht. In the finest barbecue tradition it was a small and extremely unpretentious venue — patrons were welcome to scrawl their names on the walls of the converted house, and thousands had — where menu was simple and the focus was entirely on the flavor. Despite its low profile the venue got some national attention, being featured in an episode of the Cooking Channel’s “Man Fire Food” series titled “Alabama’s Best BBQ.” But in late 2017 Armbrecht announced that it was for sale. A quick changing of the guard wasn’t in the cards and the Brick Pit shut down.
Recently some renovations have been under way. On Thursday, James West, a Mobile insurance agent and bon vivant, announced on Facebook that he and some friends had purchased the venue and were “working hard to return it to all of its previous glory.”
Speaking in more detail, West said his involvement began months ago when he heard that a friend, A.J. Niland, was negotiating a possible purchase from Armbrecht. “I reached out to him and said, ‘That’s my favorite barbecue restaurant, and I’ve got a few ideas I think would help make money.” (e.g.: Add mac and cheese to the menu.)
Niland asked if West would care to invest. After some discussions, he did. That puts him in partnership with Niland and Ryan Chavez — two Mobile expatriates living in New Orleans — and a silent partner.
West said that his role will be to oversee operations. For now that means overseeing renovations, and it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the venue that those are substantial. The Brick Pit was certainly not short on character. West said items completed or in progress include a new roof, replumbing, rewiring, the removal of carpeting from the dining area, repairs to the smoker and carpentry work to address rotted wood and termite damage.
That said, West promised that the goal was not to remake The Brick Pit but to make it what it always was, only better. The future might see new features such as a deck and live music, but they’re not immediate goals.
One big change: Under Armbrecht the restaurant was alcohol-free, but West said the new owners will seek a license to serve beer and wine.
There’s no immediate target date for a reopening, West said. For now, much as with barbecue itself, it’s more about getting it done right than getting it done fast.
“It was our favorite place,” said West. “It’s really a labor of love for us.”