Blue Dot Barbecue in the Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood just west of downtown Pensacola doesn’t look like much from the outside. Its signature blue frontage and a small white sign are all that might suggest that the old building is home to more than meets the eye.
Certainly, there’s no flashing neon sign out front advertising the world’s greatest hamburger. But ask any of Blue Dot’s many, many regular customers and they’ll tell you that’s exactly what the restaurant is making.
“There’s nothing else like them,” said Anthony Purifoy as he waited to order two burgers on a recent Tuesday.
For more than 60 years, through boom and bust, Blue Dot has been churning out hamburgers of unparalleled quality. As Pensacola has morphed and changed, Blue Dot has remained, a reversion to a time before smartphones and credit cards, a time of lunch counters and cash transactions.
At the head of that operation today – indeed synonymous with Blue Dot – is J. Byron Long. Five days a week, you can find Long apron-clad behind the counter of the Blue Dot, taking and filling orders, sometimes five at once. He takes no notes and uses no calculator. He remembers the order in which customers arrived at the counter and tends to each in their turn. After collecting a round of orders he disappears into the back where, alongside one or two employees, he creates what many proclaim to be the best hamburger they’ve ever had.
Long isn’t the type to pay much attention to what people say online, but of the more than 1,000 reviews posted on places like Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor, nearly all rate the restaurant five out of five stars. When lunchtime rolls around at Blue Dot, all walks of life can be found rubbing elbows at the counter, cash in hand, eager to pick up a single burger for themselves or take a bulging brown paper bag back to the office.
The burgers themselves are deceptively simple. A meat patty, onions, tomato, mayonnaise and mustard on a seeded white bun. How Long get’s them to taste so good is a closely guarded secret, passed down for generations.
“I just tell people there’s a lot of love and care put in to them,” Long said.
It was Long’s great uncle Blue Robinson who, along with his wife, Dot, opened the Blue Dot Barbecue in 1946. Long’s father Thomas Long Jr. took over the business when Robinson died. Byron Long began helping his father at the restaurant when he was 21 years old and took over the business himself after his father passed seven years ago.
Long’s reputation for terse transactions and no-nonsense orders makes some first-time customers wary of saying the wrong thing, but Long thinks those kinds of concerns are misplaced.
“Sometimes the people who come in the first time find it kind of intimidating, but once you get to be a regular with me you see I do smile, I do laugh,” he said. “It’s just in that moment, it’s all business. I don’t have time to stop and talk to one person because if I do I’ll miss two or three on the other side.”
For many, Blue Dot is a tradition that spans generations. The restaurant has been one of the few businesses in the Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood to survive the economic ebbs and flows of the past six decades. Once a cultural and commercial hub for Pensacola’s black residents, the neighborhood was all but abandoned by the start of the century. As Pensacola has developed in the last decade and proximity to downtown become a desirable quality, the neighborhood has recently undergone significant gentrification. New home prices in the neighborhood are approaching $400,000 and a new apartment complex is currently under construction right across the street from Blue Dot. Meanwhile, Long continues to sell his hamburgers for $5.58.
Long said whatever the future brings, he plans to go on making hamburgers just the way his father and uncle did before him.
“Everybody has got to eat, so whatever anybody is going to be around me or across from me the only thing it’s going to do is help me and my business,” Long said.
Council on Aging of West Florida is compliant with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability. Learn more at www.bbb.org.