Ollie's Barbecue was a landmark barbecue restaurant, noted for its slow-cooked lean Boston butts, beef and chicken served with a thin, spicy, vinegary sauce, which was a landmark on Birmingham's Southside from 1926 to 1999.
James Ollie McClung purchased the Green Tree Barbecue near Elmwood Cemetery in 1926 and moved it to a wood-framed shack at 900 8th Avenue South in 1927.
His son Ollie Wade McClung joined him in 1930. It originally occupied a small shack with wood plank floors, tar paper on the roof and screens nailed up around the walls. The building was rebuilt at 902 7th Avenue South in 1940 and enlarged in 1959 to meet growing demand.
Ollie's was the subject of a landmark Civil Rights ruling from the United States Supreme Court. Within the Supreme Court's opinion, the restaurant was described:
Ollie's Barbecue is a family owned restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, specializing in barbecued meats and homemade pies, with a seating capacity of 220 customers. It is located on a state highway 11 blocks from an interstate one [sic] and a somewhat greater distance from railroad and bus stations. The restaurant caters to a family and white-collar trade with a take-out service for Negroes. It employs 36 persons, two-thirds of whom are Negroes.
In the case of [acting Attorney General Nicholas] Katzenbach v. McClung (1964) the court overturned a District Court opinion that Ollie's policy of serving African-American customers only at the take-out window was not subject to federal regulation under public accommodations clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court determined that the restaurant's policies impacted how much meat it ordered from a local wholesaler, which in turn purchased it from a Hormel meatpacking plant in Arkansas. Therefore the government had the right to enforce integrated dining based on its ability to regulate interstate commerce. McClung agreed to abide by the decision and served five black customers two hours after it was announced on December 14. The decision, which was joined with a case involving an Atlanta hotel, effectively established non-segregated public accommodations throughout the United States.
Meanwhile, long-time African-American workers at Ollie's Barbecue remained loyal to the owners and used their employee discount to supply meals to Civil Rights Movement mass meetings.
In 1968, to accommodate the construction of Interstate 65, Ollie's moved to the modern-style round building which became a landmark down the road at 515 University Boulevard (Green Springs Highway). The new building opened on December 23 of that year. The older building remained next to the interstate until it was torn down for development of a Chevron station in 1997.
Ollie's barbecue was twice delivered to Air Force One during visits to Birmingham by presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Other notables who dined at Ollie's include Billy Graham, Paul Newman, Wayne Rogers, Lewis Grizzard and George Lindsey.
In 1989 Ollie's son Ollie, Jr joined the partnership, then welcomed his sons Ollie III and Barry in 1995. 1999 the owners moved the restaurant to a new location at 1880 Southpark Drive, near the intersection of Valleydale Road and U.S. Highway 31 in Hoover. That location did not live up to the owner's expectations and closed on September 10, 2001. Ollie, Jr continued to produce the restaurant's signature sauce which is bottled and sold regionally at grocery stores.
In 2005 Barry McClung opened a new Ollie's Barbecue on U.S. Highway 98 in Daphne (Baldwin County). The Green Springs Highway location was purchased and remodeled for Grace and Truth Church and its Kairos Kafe.
|900 8th Avenue South
|902 Avenue G
|515 University Boulevard
Grace & Truth Church
|1880 Southpark Drive
Ollie's was known for its long-serving staff members, including waitresses who took complicated orders without pencil and paper.
- Dora Bonner, waitress 1958-98
- Gert Burke, waitress 1953-98
- Rubena Lewis, waitress 1954-98
- Katzenbach v. McClung (December 14, 1964). Accessed from  on September 5, 2012.
- "The Supreme Court: Beyond a Doubt" (December 25, 1964) TIME magazine
- Milazzo, Don (June 25, 1999) "Basics remain unchanged at the new Ollie's." Birmingham Business Journal
- Milazzo, Don (September 21, 2001) "Ollie's BBQ closes, but the sauce will live on." Birmingham Business Journal
- Garrison, Greg (December 12, 2014) "50 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Ollie's Barbecue, a landmark in desegregation." The Birmingham News