Former NFL defensive end delivers culinary hits as hometown restaurant owner

Former Alabama and NFL standout Wallace Gilberry holds a poster of Rama Jama’s in Tuscaloosa, a landmark that was the inspiration for his restaurant Berry’s Bistro in his hometown of Bay Minette.
Former Alabama and NFL standout Wallace Gilberry holds a poster of Rama Jama’s in Tuscaloosa, a landmark that was the inspiration for his restaurant Berry’s Bistro in his hometown of Bay Minette.

BAY MINETTE, Alabama — After delivering hits as a defensive end in the NFL for nearly a decade Wallace Gilberry now hopes to deliver culinary hits as the owner of Berry’s Bistro in his hometown of Bay Minette.

After opening Momo’s Wings and Things on Springhill Avenue in Mobile last August, Gilberry and his twin brothers, Allen and Alden, opened Berry’s Bistro at 712 D’Olive St. in Bay Minette in July and will host a grand opening on Saturday, Sept. 11.

While Gilberry said he doesn’t have anything special planned for the grand opening, there will probably be some type of charity drive for the community.

“We just want to let people know that we are here and want to be a part of the community,” he said. “This area is growing rapidly, and we’re excited to be a part of that growth.”

Gilberry said he wants to make giving back to the community an integral part of the restaurant. He is working with a co-op program through the local high school to hire students after school and weekends and has also teamed with the Kiwanis Club of Bay Minette for some upcoming projects, among other things.

“Whatever I can do to give back to this community, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I am proud of this community and I want this to be a place where people can come and enjoy good company.”

While he loves to cook, Gilberry said, he enjoys having a good staff at Berry’s Bistro, including Head Chef Mike Cobbs. The kitchen offers a mix of traditional diner food, featuring a variety of wings and their signature double cheeseburger, which comes loaded with lettuce, tomato and onions with condiments served on the side.

“We want to serve the best burger in Bay Minette,” Gilberry said. You can also get a turkey burger or a “Beyond Meat” vegetarian burger.

All burgers and wings come with a side of seasoned fries, or you can try onion rings, fried pickles or sweet potato fries. You can also try chicken and waffles or chicken tenders.

“We want to be able to offer a little something for everyone to enjoy,” he said.

The menu also features a variety of seafood, including shrimp, fish and oysters served grilled or fried (try the chargrilled oysters on the half-shell served with melted cheese and bacon), and salmon balls. Berry’s also recently added shrimp, oyster and fish Po’boys to its menu, Gilberry said.

“Being this close to the Gulf Coast, we had to have seafood,” he said.

Berry’s also offers a dinner menu with steak, grilled chicken or shrimp salad, or a grilled chicken breast with sides, including mac & cheese, vegetables, white rice or a house salad.

Come in Sunday for brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to the regular menu, Berry’s serves chicken & waffles, grits with shrimp or fish, eggs, bacon sausage, Canadian bacon, steak, chicken breast, salmon cakes, hash browns or fruit.

Gilberry said he got bitten by the restaurant bug in high school working at the local I-Hop for almost two years.

Former Alabama High School Athletic Association Director Steve Savarese and his wife were regular customers, Gilberry said, and he took pride in the fact that he memorized what they ordered regularly and would have it ready when they came in.

“That’s where it all started for me,” he said. “It’s about developing a relationship with customers and developing a chemistry with the staff.”

Ironically, it was an opportunity to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in high school that would temporarily divert his path away from the restaurant business.

“I had to choose between working at I-Hop and playing in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game in Montgomery,” he said. “I never thought I would get the opportunity to play in college and nine years in the NFL, but it was my time at I-Hop that sparked my interest in the restaurant business.”

After finishing a stellar career at Baldwin County High School in 2002, Gilberry signed with the University of Alabama, redshirting in 2003 before appearing in 50 games for the Crimson Tide from 2004 to 2007.

He signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants in 2008 and would go on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions before returning to the Bengals in 2016, retiring after the 2017 season.

It was an iconic eatery in Tuscaloosa, Rama Jama’s, that would set him back on the path and would be the inspiration for Berry’s Bistro.

“This is really where it all started for me,” he said, pointing to a poster of the restaurant that sits in Berry’s breakroom.

In his freshman year at Alabama, he came across the restaurant on his morning run and decided to go in and talk to the owner.

“It became part of my daily routine,” he said. “I would get the same thing every day, a ham and cheese sandwich and would sit and talk to the owner about starting that kind of restaurant that would be a part of the community.”

Gilberry said he was also inspired by fellow Crimson Tide alum Bob Baumhauer and places like Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Like Rama Jama’s, Berry’s Bistro is an homage to sports, with televisions lining the walls that Gilberry plans to serve as a meeting place for games on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays during the season.

Jerseys also line the walls, including Gilberry’s retired high school jersey from BCHS, his jersey from the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, a Crimson Tide jersey, along with several of his and those of friends and teammates from his playing days in the NFL.

There are also photos on the wall from some of his favorite hits, including NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, who recently started his first season as head coach for St. Michael’s Catholic High School in Fairhope.

A lounge area features artwork from his time in Cincinnati, painted by a local artist there. A pool table is also prominent where people come to “have fun and talk smack.”

Berry’s is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed on Tuesday. Since opening in July, Gilberry said the restaurant has been well received in the community.

“We’ve been affected a little bit by COVID just like everybody else, but we’ve still got people coming and we’re getting better every day,” he said. “This city needed something like this and I’m happy to be a part of that. I don’t know that I will be around as long as Rama Jama’s, but I want to be here for a long time serving my community.”

In addition to his two restaurants, Gilberry also owns a product development business, which has developed a line of hemp products and is working to develop other products which are available in stores across the country.

His goal, he said, is to eventually franchise Berry’s Bistro, opening stores in other parts of the country.

“Our hope is to be able to expand within the next three to five years,” he said. “I think this is something that we can do anywhere and I’m proud to get it started in my hometown.”