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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Maxine and Van Sykes

Originally from Cumberland City, Tennessee, Bob Sykes grew up in the country, experiencing hog killings and learning to smoke hams. As a young man during the Depression, Bob set out for Birmingham, seeking opportunity in the big city. He worked a series of different jobs. He married. And in 1956 he and his wife Maxine decided that they’d like to work together. They sold their house and their car to buy a small neighborhood café called The Ice Spot. Their gamble paid off. Bob found he had a knack for cooking, and Maxine was a great manager. Their son, Van, was a toddler at the time, getting on-the-job-training. Before long, hamburgers gave way to barbecue and a tradition was born. Van carries on his late father’s legacy. Through different locations, franchises, and changing tastes, Bob Sykes BarB-Q has stood the test of time. As Van is quick to say, “Where other restaurants have branches, we have roots.” And their’s are roots that run deep in Birmingham’s barbecue tradition.

Maxine Sykes passed away on January 17, 2015 at the age of 93.

Date of interview:
2006-09-30 00:00

Amy Evans


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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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