Where there’s smoke, there’s barbecue: Dover becomes next TenderBones location

Jim Schuyler, left, and Angel Guzman of Kent Signs put the final touches to the TenderBones Rib Shack sign at the former Where Pigs Fly location in Dover on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — There’s more to being in the restaurant business for Clint “Chef Bones” Harris than just preparing mouth-watering food.

While he admits that producing quality food is the goal of every restaurateur, he also enjoys meeting and greeting his customers and says that each person that walks through his doors is “a blessing.”

Mr. Harris is just about to have a whole new city to meet when he opens the doors to his TenderBones Rib Shack at the former longtime home of Where Pigs Fly at 617 E. Loockerman St. in Dover.

“It’s just been amazing how many people have been reaching out to me and I am definitely looking forward to opening a TenderBones in Dover,” Mr. Harris said. “Just the outpouring of support from people coming by and saying ‘Hello’ to me out in the parking lot when we were putting our new sign up and people pulling over and asking about us and when we’re coming to Dover. It really has been amazing.”

“Chef Bones” is tentatively planning a soft opening for the Dover TenderBones takeout-style barbecue restaurant in late March and a grand-opening ceremony the first week in April.

Mr. Harris is well-known at his other location in Bear for his enormous personality, his love of his guests, his monstrous 3-pound Philly cheesesteaks and his throwback Fish Friday’s.

“I believe the customers are actually the most important part of a business,” he said. “The food is good by itself, but I really believe in old-school restaurants where you have a relationship with who is cooking your food. My customers are No. 1 and I just want to treat them like they’re eating a home-cooked meal.

“When I was younger, I used to like when people used to meet in the kitchen for conversation. Everyone also came from all around to go to grandma’s house when she made fish on Fridays. That’s where that tradition started.”

Fish Friday is also a tradition that is held by many southern and black families. His restaurant only offers fish one day a week — on Fridays.

Nowadays, Mr. Harris serves more than 350 orders of fish each Friday.

That’s one of the reasons that he’s looking to hire around 50 people for his Dover location, which is going to be running shifts from 10 a.m. until 11 at night and will be open seven days a week. He plans to start interviewing applicants this week for all the positions he has to offer. So far, he has 275 applications.

He said people don’t necessarily need to have experience to work on his team, just the desire to work.

Clint “Chef Bones” Harris, left, joins a customer and one of his trademark 3-pound cheesesteaks at his TenderBones in Bear. Submitted photo

The team that he assembles will have the responsibility of helping prepare and serve food from a menu that includes wood-smoked brisket, ribs, pork, burgers and the occasional surprise special. The menu will be almost identical to his first location and alcohol will not be served in Dover, just like in Bear.

The funny thing is, the 3-pound Philly cheesesteak is nowhere to be found on “Chef Bones’” menu, even though he’s sold 28,000 of the monster steaks since February 2018, the day he invented the sandwich while his beloved Philadelphia Eagles celebrated their long-awaited Super Bowl victory with a parade through Philadelphia.

Most of his employees in Bear attended the parade while Mr. Harris and his wife put together the cheesesteaks while they were away.

The cheesesteak consists of two-and-a-half to three pounds of ribeye steak, American cheese, onions, and green and red peppers on a 13-inch roll. The chef said the sandwich was designed to be shared.

“I am a diehard Eagles fan and the way the cheesesteak came about was really funny,” Mr. Harris said. “When the Eagles won, I got on social media and said, ‘I going to make four of the best cheesesteaks that you have ever eaten. It was supposed to be just those four.’

“But folks came over and got them and started talking about them and then I started just tweaking it. It was never meant to be a three-pound sandwich. We don’t advertise these things at all. You eat it in portions. My whole idea was to make it something you can share. That is definitely a sandwich you can sit down and share with.”

Now each of those massive cheesesteaks, which sell for $15, come in a Styrofoam carrier signed and numbered by the chef himself.
And for the first time since Mr. Harris’ Bear location opened its doors on June 24, 2017, the chef will be spending most of his time in Dover.

“I’m going to be coming down to Dover for the next year-and-a-half easily,” he said. “I want to make relationships in the community and talk to all of our customers and making sure it runs as smoothly as it does in Bear.

“We do barbecue a little different than everyone else, cooking it around eight-and-a-half hours in a smoker. We’re more like the Carolina ‘fall off the bone’ kind of meat. My ribs are a totally different experience. We drive them crazy up there in the Bear area and hope to do the same in Dover.”

If Dover proves to be successful, which Mr. Harris is confident it will be, he said he is also eyeing future locations in Elkton, Maryland, and Wilmington.

“Once I feel Dover can hold its own, who knows what’s next?” he said.

Right now, his focus is on Dover.

“We love the history of Dover and the location of what used to be ‘Where Pigs Fly’ for more than a quarter of a century,” he said. “It was definitely a no-brainer for us to open up down there.”

And don’t be surprised if the chef asks his customers to take a selfie with him for his Facebook page where he likes to remind his patrons that he feels “blessed by each and every one of them,” and serenades them by singing to them, “When you get home, you’re gonna eat some TenderBoooones!”

Or perhaps a 3-pound cheesesteak.