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TenderBones brings family, flavor to Dover

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Everything Clint “Chef Bones” Harris does seems to center around family. Whether it’s the dishes pulled straight from his family’s recipe books or the sense of community he creates by personally greeting (and sometimes singing to) customers, he has turned a retirement project into a meaningful dining experience for people in Delaware.

TenderBones Rib Shack gained national attention after the Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl win inspired Chef Bones to create a three-pound cheesesteak. The sandwich wasn’t on the menu, but in 18 months, they sold more than 28,000.

Now, the Bear-based takeout barbecue restaurant is opening a location in Dover. It will replace Where Pigs Fly, 617 East Loockerman Street, which closed in November.

Chef Bones is planning a soft opening in late March and a grand-opening ceremony the first week in April. He said there has already been an outpouring of support from the Dover community. Spotting him outside the familiar flying pig marquee, he said people have stopped and rolled down their windows to shout “Hey, Chef Bones!”

“I’m very excited about Dover,” he said. “Dover is really among all these other restaurants and it’s amazing to see the nightlife here and people getting around during the day and how busy it is. And the people seem to be very nice.”

The restaurant will be open seven days a week. Customers will still order at the counter in take-out style, but they can take advantage of the 124 seats and 11 televisions if they wish to stay.

The menu includes wood-smoked brisket, ribs, pork, burgers and often some surprise specials. “We’re good ol’ down-home wood-smokin’ folks,” Chef Bones said.

TenderBones in Dover will serve specialty drinks and may use Where Pigs Fly’s old taps for root beer. There will be no alcohol.

Fish Fridays

Growing up, Chef Bones would go to his grandma’s house to have fish on Fridays. He said it was a tradition ingrained in a lot of southern and African American families, and he knew he wanted it to be a part of TenderBones’ culture, too.

“We only do fish one day a week, and we fry it the old fish fry way,” Chef Bones said. The first Fish Friday, they sold 50 orders without announcing it. Then, it grew to 160 and kept growing. Fridays are now the busiest.

“People were coming back and remembering, and they were bringing me their own stories of how they remember going back to their family’s house to eat fish,” he said.

One time, Fish Friday brought together a family that had been estranged for years, he said. The cousins had accidentally run into each other at TenderBones in Bear. “It turns out they didn’t even know what they were even fighting over,” Chef Bones said. “When they left out of there they were a family connected again, and that is the power of food.

Chef Bones thanks God for transforming his dream of a small barbecue restaurant. On TenderBones’ Facebook page, he will often post selfies with customers and caption it: Thank you for blessing us.

“It’s a blessing to have anyone allowing us to serve them,” he said. People of all backgrounds and religions are welcome at TenderBones, but he has one rule.

“We invite them all in but we don’t talk politics in my shop because I tell folks we want to remain friends,” he said, laughing.

Job opportunities

Chef Bones plans to hire at least 50 people and has begun looking at applications. “I’m going to hire as many people as I can that have a desire to work,” he said. “They don’t necessarily need the experience. They just need to have the desire to work.”

In Bear, he has focused on supporting several younger employees through college. “Being able to put all those people to work was awesome,” he said. For more, visit tenderbones.com