More than 19 months after a fire destroyed the building, Three Sams BBQ Joint in Mabelvale is ready to reopen. Owner Annette Jones will open the doors Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. for the first time since March 2016, when a hot smoker caught fire and wrecked the restaurant. For Jones and Three Sams, the work it took to get the space open again was the product of the entire Mabelvale community.
“We had a lot of people that helped us,” said Jones. The customer support is unbelievable. Every member of my family is asking me, ‘Oh my gosh, when are you going to open up so these people will leave me alone?’”
While restaurants like Midtown Billiards and Stoby’s in Conway managed to reopen relatively quickly after their fires, Three Sams has had a more difficult time of it. The building was grandfathered in to several code changes over the years, subjecting the rebuilding process to miles of red tape and multiple inspections from various departments. It also kept Jones from expanding Three Sams to a larger dining room.
“Between the railroad and the city, they wouldn’t let us make it any larger,” said Jones. “It’s so close to the tracks, nothing is allowed to be built that close anymore, so we could not go any larger.”
Jones did manage to make some upgrades, including installing a drink fountain instead of using bottled sodas, and a brand new kitchen. Three Sams will also feature a few more seats than before and newly updated restrooms.
Still, don’t expect Three Sams to completely modernize. The restaurant is of serious importance to the Mabelvale community. While Three Sams has only been open since 2002, the building has been there for decades, and there is plenty of memorabilia on the walls to prove it. Mabelvale High School class pictures from the 1950s adorn the walls, along with several photographs of the community that date back even further. It was that importance to the community that kept Jones going through the difficult and lengthy rebuilding.
“The customers kept us going this whole time, they really did,” said Jones. “A lot of the people we either know from here, or we knew their parents and they’re still here, people we went to school with.”
Even if you’re not from Mabelvale, you’ll find plenty of reason to celebrate tomorrow’s reopening. The food menu is unchanged from March 2016, featuring customer favorite like the loaded hot dogs, baked potatoes, and burgers and fries. And while there are a few new desserts, the classics are still here, like the Oreo cream pie and the stunning peanut butter pie that recently took home our reader’s choice for best in the city. Jones says she is still in awe of the level of support that Three Sams has received.
“I can’t say thank you enough for something like that. They were all encouraging. When people would drive by, whatever we were doing they would jump in and help. There’s no place out here for the old Mabelvale community to get to see each other, so it’s like Cheers, but not Boston. It’s for Mabelvale.”