Toni Rouse is a soft-spoken man, a barbecue connoisseur with a heart of gold. Rouse, who runs Toni's Cafe at 5270 Griggs Road, was -- up until June 26 -- the proud owner of a 16-foot, bright red and gold custom barbecue pit with a five-man crew that turned out brisket and ribs for the greater Third Ward. Rouse and his crew would take the pit around to elderly shut-ins, old folks' homes and others in the community who needed his assistance, dishing out as much free barbecue as they could smoke in a day.
That was until the pit was stolen from behind his restaurant, in broad daylight, while Rouse himself was in the hospital for a heart condition. Now, the business owner is devastated by the loss of his $8,000, one-of-a-kind pit, as well as the fact that he had to lay off the four men who helped him man it, and the fact that he's no longer out there in the community making free meals and helping out those in need.
"It's a unique pit; one of a kind," Rouse lamented. "If you would paint it a different color, I would still know it. It's very unusual." The pit was stolen around 3:30 p.m. on June 26 from behind Toni's Cafe, which is -- ironically -- right next door to a police station.
"It's been back there for about three or four years without a problem. Usually it's protected, but someone was watching us that day," Rouse said. And whoever was watching knew exactly what they were doing. "There was a witness who saw an elderly black man with a U-Haul who hooked it up and left," Rouse said.
Leads as to the pit's whereabouts are few and far between: "A few people said they'd seen it on Hiram Clarke, but there's nothing concrete."
It was a blow to Rouse and the rest of his employees, who've run Toni's Cafe since 2003 without any problems. "We've been active in the community as a whole since 1996," he said. "I just hope and pray we can get our pit back so we can get back to work and keep helping people."
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The pit wasn't insured, as Rouse points out that you can't insure trailers in the state of Texas. And although some people have offered to sell Rouse a new pit at a reasonable price, he can't afford a new one. More to the point, his old pit was perfectly seasoned, something no amount of money can buy.
If he does find the pit, Rouse has offered to provide free barbecue for life to the person who helps him track it down and reclaim it. He's even taken out an ad to this effect, featuring a close-up photo of the license plate to further assist in the hunt: 48Z-BPB.
But even if he never locates his prized pit, Rouse has an affirmingly Tolstoyan approach to the thief: "I don't wish no harm on anybody," he said. "I just hope someone's cooking some good barbecue on it."
Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of Rouse's pit is asked to please contact him at 832-212-1314 or 713-645-8664.