As a child, growing up in Lower Providence, Phil Schmidt Jr. never thought anyone would call him “Phamous Phil.”
But, he did dream of owning his own restaurant one day.
“Ever since I was a kid, I just loved to cook,” Schmidt said. “I always wanted to have a restaurant, but I didn’t know what kind.”
Schmidt and his wife Robin recently spoke with Patch in their Collegeville-based restaurant, Phamous Phil’s BBQ and Grille, where they shared the story of how Lower Providence Township’s only southern-style barbecue restaurant came to be.
Locally Born and Raised
Schmidt grew up in the Trooper section of Lower Providence. He can trace his family roots in the township to the early 1950s.
He attended Visitation BVM Elementary School, and graduated from Methacton High School (MHS) in 1977.
His family continues to have roots in the area, as both his daughters graduated from MHS.
Schmidt recalled that both his parents loved to cook, and, during his formative years, encouraged him to help prepare meals and experiment in the kitchen.
However, after high school, Schmidt did not pursue further studies in the culinary arts, instead entered the workforce in the automotive industry.
A Fateful Trip to Tennessee
During the 1990s, Schmidt decided to spend a year in Tennessee. He lived with a friend whose home happened to have a food establishment attached to it.
“He had a [barbecue] pit built next to his house,” Schmidt said. “It’s totally different down there.”
He said that in the south, barbecue establishments are as commonplace as pizza or coffee shops.
“The thing about barbecue in the south, you could have it four – five times a week,” Schmidt explained. “There could be three – four barbecue restaurants on one street, and they’ll all be packed.”
He recalled that his friend’s barbecue pit was made out of cinder blocks, bricks, grates, underneath which was a pit for charcoal or wood.
Schmidt said that he helped his friend run his barbecue business, learning how to smoke the meat; which he explains is the southern style of cooking barbecue.
On the Road to being ‘Phamous’
Upon his return home, Schmidt also returned to the automotive industry, painting exotic foreign cars.
However, Schmidt couldn’t ignore his love of cooking. He would also pursue different outlets to practice and share his passion, although, initially, that passion didn’t include barbecue.
Also since the 1990s, Schmidt has hosted an annual clambake at his home.
According to his wife, Robin, he would bake over 1,500 clams, along with chicken, corn and potatoes.
Robin said the annual clambakes became locally popular, inviting many of Schmidt’s friends and family to the event.
“We’ve drawn up to 150 people to our clambakes,” Robin said.
She also recalled taking the 100-plus guests for dancing at the former KP Corral in King of Prussia, a Country and Western-themed nightclub (now the Fox and Hound restaurant).
“And the DJ just stopped in the middle of the song, and said, ‘There’s famous Phil’s and the clambake gang,” Schmidt said.
When making up the invitations for the following year’s clambake, Schmidt said that the invitations should read, “Phamous Phil’s Clambake.”
“And, the name stuck,” Robin said.
Phamous Phil’s BBQ and Grille
Along with the annual clambake, Schmidt also had a side business, catering various engagements for his friends and family.
During these events, Schmidt would serve standard catering dishes. Meanwhile, for his family, he would experiment with barbecue sauces, slow-cooking techniques and his own recipes that recalled his time in Tennessee.
He even became a member of the Kansas City BBQ Society, and began judging for its annual barbecue cook-offs.
Then, in 2009, Schmidt was laid off from his car-painting position, when his company changed ownership.
Despite the setback, Schmidt upheld the tradition of his annual clambake. However, that year, he also brought along a new pulled pork and rib dish that he debuted at a catering event the day before.
“I served them at the clambake and somebody said, ‘Hey, why don’t you open up a barbecue restaurant?’” Schmidt said. “Just like that.”
Soon, he and his wife found a restaurant location, located at 3839 Germantown Pike in Collegeville. Schmidt recalled that the location was a former convenience store, where he bought ‘penny candy’ as a child.
By 2010, at the age of 51, Schmidt became the proud co-owner of his first business and restaurant, fulfilling a life-long dream.
“It was nerve-racking,” Schmidt said of the first few days and weeks of opening the restaurant. “We didn’t know if people would come.”
Since opening, Phamous Phil’s BBQ and Grille has received several recognitions by popular demand, including Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly 2011” for best barbecue in the suburbs and Montgomery Newspapers’ Readers’ Choice “Best of Montgomery County” in 2011 and 2012.
A Growing Menu
Phamous Phil’s menu includes southern-style barbecue, such as its ribs and pulled pork sandwiches, which are smoked on premises. It also has more than just barbecue dishes, including unique smoked then fried wings, seafood platters and a diverse menu of homemade side dishes, made fresh every day.
He said that the barbecue dishes could be served with the Phamous Phil’s original sauce, which has a Jack Daniels-based glaze, or served naked.
“You want to be able to taste the meat,” Schmidt said.
In terms of balanancing the smokiness of barbecue with his unique and homemade sauces, Schmidt points to his favorite review, found in Philadelphia Magazine, which reads in part:
"And the best thing one can say about Phil's meat is that, while his sauce is good, it's also completely unessary."
The sauces themselves have become nationally recognized. According to Schmidt, he has entered his sauces in the national Kansas City BBQ Society barbecue cook-offs, since opening Phamous Phil’s. He said that the sauce portion of the cook-off has over 1,000 contestants nationwide. This year, each of his four sauces have come in the top 40 placeses, and his Zesty Carolina Honey Mustard Barbecue sauce came within the top 10.
Schmidt said that he is also proud to locally purchase all ingredients.
The beef products are from Burt’s Farms in Gilberstville and Clemens Meat Market in Norristown. Pork products are from Leidy’s of Souderton and fresh produce comes from Jim and Ralph’s Produce in Lower Providence.
“We are local and independent,” Schmidt said. “And, I like supporting local businesses.”
The latest venture for Phamous Phil’s introduces a southern-style breakfast menu. Launched earlier this month, the breakfast menu features homemade-from-scratch home fries, hash, potato casseroles, as well as familiar breakfast favorites such as sausage, pancakes, French toast, smoked ham and scrapple.
The breakfast menu is served from 7 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
For more information, visit www.phamousphilsbbq.com or call 610-489-7675. Phamous Phil’s offers gluten free items and is a B.Y.O.B. establishment.
Hurricane Sandy Relief
Phamous Phil’s Barbecue and Grille is participating in the Fairview Village Church Hurricane Sandy relief effort, in which Phamous Phil’s will be a collection point for non-perishable items, including:
- Canned goods
- Baby foods
- Diapers and wipes
- Flashlights and batteries
- Trash bags
- Disinfectant wipes
- Monetary donations
For more information, visit the Phamous Phil’s Facebook Page.