BBQ in Hayward: The choice is yours

Carmen’s and Everett & Jones dominate local scene


Photo by Louis LaVenture/The Pioneer

Louis LaVenture,

As a lifelong Hayward resident, there is one thing I have come to learn about my city: people have distinct tastes when it comes to their barbecue. For some, any place will do. However, for many Hayward residents like myself, a choice must be made. That choice: Carmen’s or Everett & Jones?

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, then you must not be from Hayward. These two barbecue restaurants have been around for decades and are separated by less than a half-mile on A Street in North Hayward. However, that short distance means everything to devoted fans and faithfuls alike.

“Everett & Jones got too much fat on the meat,” Carmen’s enthusiast William Tengui said. “I know fat is flavor but damn I paid for some meat. You see now Carmen’s though, they got that perfect balance of meat to fat where I don’t feel ripped off. Plus the taste is just better.”

Both establishments utilize the traditional California style of barbecue cuisine, which means it is grilled and/or smoked over coals or wood and then smothered in a sweet barbecue sauce.

Carmen’s and their flagship store in Hayward has been around since 1979. Another aspect of Carmen’s that fans prefer to Everett & Jones is its authenticity. At Carmen’s, on any given day you can actually meet Carmen, who might give you a one word answer to your questions, tell you to speak up or not acknowledge you at all, but it is all a part of the charm of the place. You can also meet her kids, grandchildren and other family members that work in the establishment part time.

Carmen is from Jamaica, which is apparent inside the storefront. From the maps of Jamaica on the salt and pepper shakers, to the Jamaican ginger beer she sips while tending customers at the counter, her home-country is readily apparent. One of her customers, Tanisha Walker from Oakland said, “I’ll never look as good as her when I’m 80-years-old.”

Carmen was quick with a response for her customer. “Keep working hard and you look like me.” She went on to explain that at 80 years old, she still works six days a week at the Hayward location. Their success, dedication, and island flare in Hayward eventually led to stores in both Fremont and Tracy.

Everett & Jones’ story is a little different. Fresh out of a divorce with nine kids to care for, Dorothy Everett, who worked as a pit master for a barbecue restaurant for years, decided to open her own business and Everett & Jones was born in 1973. She got a loan, a line of credit and used word of mouth and free samples to drum up some interest in her food, which was overwhelmingly popular in Oakland and beyond.

After opening the first restaurant in Oakland, it became a huge hit and eventually led to the opening of multiple restaurants throughout the Bay Area, as well as a deal with the Oakland Coliseum to sell barbecue at games and events.

The history and accomplishments of the eateries have transitioned into a fierce competition, not created by the establishments, but by the patrons. Many people will eat only one or the other but not both, a strong show of loyalty to their barbecue palace of choice.

The differences are apparent. Everett & Jones has a higher fat content on its meat and its sauce is darker, thicker and sweeter than Carmen’s. However, Carmen’s meat is much meatier with less fat and their barbecue sauce is lighter, thinner and more acidic than their counterpart down the street.

“I will not eat Everett & Jones, that’s all there is to it,” 27-year-old Hayward resident Robel Shadiuq said. “Carmen’s is more like I’m eating at my granny’s house, Everett & Jones is kinda fast foodish, wham bam thank you ma’am here’s your food, raise up out of here type of spot. I want to feel comfortable when I’m grubbing, I feel like I’m at home or something at Carmen’s.”

For myself and other lifelong Hayward residents, it seems a side must be taken. For me it is a no-brainer: Everett & Jones. However, there’s a personal reason behind this. When I was younger, twice a month my grandfather would go to the A Street location right by his house and get us two dinner plates. From the smell of the sauce to the smoky fat on the meat, it just takes me back to being a kid. I love the meaty portions at Carmen’s, but it is the nostalgia and trip down memory lane through the sauce that gets me every time at Everett & Jones compared to Carmen’s.

“It’s tradition, almost like church,” 29-year-old Hayward resident Michael Tavares said. “People can say whatever they want to say about the meat and the fat, but when it comes down to it, Everett & Jones just tastes better.”