RIP Lonnie Ray’s

It is with a heavy heart that I announce that Lonnie Ray’s Cafe seems to be no more. Between cryptic (and unanswered) posts to their Facebook page, an independent source, the fact that their phone is disconnected and confirmation by staff at the C & S Grocery store two doors down, it seems appropriate to “call it” in this case. My one remaining hope is that Mike and Brandon have shuttered the storefront and will still be doing catering. Or that we can lure them to Columbia, which accounted for approximately 95% of their business.

I first visited Lonnie Ray’s in August of 2008 and they never let me down on subsequent visits, most recently in November. Mike’s brisket was – for me – the best of an outstanding bunch and the sides and oddball specials they dreamt up were always fun. He and Brandon are good guys and passionate about what they do – perfectionists. Their ten year run was impressive; hopefully it’s not over. Like really, really over. Relive the experience through my Columbia Home Magazine piece from last year or this Missourian feature from 2013. Here’s a nice YouTube video to watch. And cry. It’s okay to cry.

Additional info as I find it. In the meantime, pour one out for Lonnie Ray’s and grab some good bbq at…oh never mind.

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

18 thoughts

  1. Their food may have been excellent… IF you were lucky enough to actually get there when they were open. Having made the trek up there twice with the intent to eat only to find the place closed with a note they had run out of food (before supper? really?)… I gave up.

    If a restaurant cannot plan properly and prepare properly to serve the guests who want to come, that restaurant is not going to last, especially if said restaurant is quite a few miles up the road from a city with other great restaurants that actually do manage to be open during peak eating times.

  2. Robin, I hear ya. My first visit found the doors closed as well (though that was a Monday and they’re closed Monday…thus, my fault). After that, and given their propensity to run out of food, I always called ahead. It’s admittedly an extra and unusual step but the food was well worth it.

    Ultimately, he and Brandon did it the way they wanted to. Could the two of them have worked longer hours and made more food? Sure. But I bet they would’ve ended up with expensive leftovers a lot of the time as well. I hope they resurface at some point.

  3. I saw Mike while shopping in Columbia a few months back. Like always he stopped shook my hand and talked for a few minutes. He mentioned that they would not be keeping regular hours for some time. I hope that they are just taking sometime to recharge. It cannot be easy running a two man show for ten years with a third guy on the weekend. I started going in college back in 2007. I have never been disappointed, and left stuffed. I was also smart enough to call avoiding Robin’s problem. They even catered my wedding rehearsal. It is a sad day for BBQ lovers in the area. Now we are stuck with sub-par dry BBQ shops in Columbia. I hope they do reopen in Harrisburg or make the move to Columbia. Till then I guess I am on the search for area BBQ that might compare.

  4. It was the bbq around hands down. Columbia bbq restaurants are commercialized and suck. People complain about Lonnie rays nor ever being open. But when mike was at work at 3am smoking those beautiful TASTY briskets what the hell can you expect, you gotta sleep somtime. They will be missed. Hopefully they set up shop in COL. And run the garbage bbq outa town.

  5. I saw Mike last week, and he confirmed what I was hoping was just a rumor. I am bummed. It was the best bbq in the land with awesome sides. I learned to always call before I drove up there. It was a no-frills dive with the BEST food. Mike, if you’re reading this, take some time to recharge & please re-open in CoMo. We love you here & will continue to support your biz. I heard about you thru word-of-mouth and I told tons of other people that also fell in love with those incredible smoked meats.

  6. This was indeed the best BBQ shack for miles around Columbia and the guys never stopped innovating. Flavorful, plentiful and affordable – they will be missed.

  7. Mike and Brandon made the best damn bar b q I’ve ever had. I used to drive from Fulton to Harrisburg just to get that brisket! They loved their food as much as their customers did. I hate to see them close and wish them the very best!! Hopefully they will re open, but in COLUMBIA!!!! There is not a single Bar b q place in Columbia that could touch the taste and quantity of Lonnie Rays.

  8. Mike, hope you see this. I discovered Lonnie Ray’s through word of mouth, like most. I first discovered the place in December, and went twice.

    I’ve been back several times since in January to find it closed. Hope you guys find that you miss the place and open back up, either in Harrisburg or in Columbia. The service was fantastic and the food was unreal.

  9. I’ve known Mike for a very long time and regardless of how tired he was, or how busy he was, he always had a smile on his face and took the time to shake hands or give you a hug. I didn’t get to Harrisburg as much as I wanted to, but never missed stopping in Lonnie Ray’s when I was there. We often talked of our futures and I hope he does continue the catering, at least! The BBQ was fantastic! Mike catered my wedding reception and several of our client appreciation parties. He and Brandon made a great team and obviously put all of their heart and soul into what they did. Mike, you’re a good guy and I have always recommended you. I too, would love to see you take a rest and re-open in COMO, if possible!

  10. Its almost disturbing how much this hurts me. I came to Missouri from Oregon 2 years ago, expecting amazing BBQ, I went to all of the 5 star, raved about, food channel endorsed places in STL and KC and still, nothing compared to Lonnie Ray’s brisket. The food was AMAZING. The guys working there were simply awesome. I feel like a close friend just passed away. Man….

  11. AAA+ BBQ, some of the best i have ever had. My family and i made the trip from Centralia several times a year and was never disappointed. I cant blame Mike for leaving the dumpy little town of Harrisburg. I wondered how a small town like that could even support a restaurant. I had heard threw the grape vine (years ago) that the towns leaders didn’t support him. Im sure that was motivation enough to shut down. F Harrisburg and everyone that hatted on him! They didn’t deserve a fine dining establishment like that anyway. He has the skills to make it anywhere. We all hope that you take a rest and reopen some where you are more welcomed! Thanks for all the great meals The Coolley Family.

  12. Please don’t bash the town of Harrisburg by calling it dumpy and say f’ Harrisburg. The town is not responsible for some peoples decision!!!!

  13. Lived in Columbia from 2009-2014 and heard about Lonnie Ray’s from friends. The absolute best brisket I’ve ever had and I’ve been to plenty of places in KC and St. Louis. Places like Joe’s, Gates, Jack Stack, Pappy’s Smokehouse and Bogarts. Nothing compared to Lonnie Ray’s brisket. Still get up to Columbia a couple times a year so I guess I’ll have to try some other place.

  14. Some friends, my kids and I actually drove from KC to visit Lonnie Ray’s after reading about it in “An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies” by Tyler Cowen. Worth. The. Trip. (Even in the thunderstorms that poured down that day.) They also managed to get a rack of ribs done before we left so that I could take it home (we were STUFFED after eating there!) to eat later. What a wonderful place! So sad it’s gone.

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