Story and Photos by Jennifer Kornegay
From 2004 to 2007, Wallace Gilberry was a crucial part of the defense on The University of Alabama’s football team. After graduation, he went on to play pro ball for several teams, signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and ending his career in 2016 with Cincinnati Bengals, retiring from the NFL after nine seasons.
Now, he’s hoping to score with diners at his namesake restaurant Berry’s Bistro, which he opened in his hometown of Bay Minette in the fall of 2021. From football to food may seem like an odd — and long — leap, but Gilberry already had some experience in the culinary industry. In fact, it almost kept him from ever donning an Alabama jersey.
In high school, he worked at the IHOP in Bay Minette. He started in the kitchen and then moved to a server. “I was really good at it,” he said. “I was making $300-$400 a week in tips and almost didn’t go to college thinking, this is working out fine, why do I need to leave?”
His mom had other thoughts and strongly encouraged him to get a degree, so off to Tuscaloosa he went, where he studied communications. “I loved it, of course. I had fun, made great friends and wonderful memories,” he says, “so I am for sure glad I went.” Plus, the athletic prowess he displayed playing for Bama earned him a spot in the NFL. “I learned a lot from the game of football, and it gave me and my family a lot too,” he says. “But there is more to life than football.”
Gilberry hung up his shoulder pads and moved back home a few years ago. He got back into the restaurant game with a hot wing spot in nearby Mobile that he owned with a business partner. But he’d always wanted to do something in his hometown. “I just figured food and sports are great ways to reach people and connect with them. I’ve already done the sports thing, so I thought, ‘How about a restaurant here?’ I also liked the idea of the challenge it presented,” he says. “The restaurant biz is tough, but I like to challenge myself.”
So far, the challenge of opening and running his own restaurant has lived up his expectations, both the good and the less positive. “I think it is always hard to find good employees, but right now, it has been even harder,” he says. “But we’ve already got regular customers. I love that, and I love interacting with them, hearing and implementing their feedback.”
Berry’s Bistro seems to be meeting diners’ expectations too. Everything on the menu is cooked to order, and the selection list is short, but that’s on purpose. “I knew I wanted to do wings and burgers and wanted to be really good at a few things instead of trying to just be OK at a lot of things,” Gilberry says. Burger lovers are treated to big, juicy, well-seasoned beef patties. Berry’s focus on wings has resulted in seven tantalizing sauce options, including lemon pepper, mango habanero and BBQ as well honeygold, a sweet, tangy, syrup that clings to crisp skin on hefty chicken wings.
While wings and burgers are staples — they’re the best sellers — Gilberry plans to change the menu regularly. “I don’t want to eat the same things all the time and figure others don’t either.” Berry’s also serves casual eatery standards like fresh-battered chicken fingers and hand-cut fries soaked for three days in house — “They’re not from some big ole bag!” Gilberry says. You can get sandwiches, too. The shrimp-stuffed po boy is Gilberry’s favorite. “I love seafood, and we can get such fresh stuff here,” he says. “There’s really nothing better than fresh Gulf shrimp.”
Bounty from the sea is also available at dinner, where chargrilled oysters generously topped with bacon and cheese are standouts in the starter section. “Steaks are a big hit at night too,” Gilberry says. And on Sundays, patrons at Berry’s do brunch, digging into fried chicken with fluffy waffles and sweet potato fries dusted with powdered sugar or savory shrimp over creamy grits.
Gilberry gives credit to his team; his star kitchen quarterback is his cousin, Angellous McCryandle, who also runs a local catering business. “She is incredible, and I’m so lucky to have her doing this with me,” Gilberry said. His customer-first philosophy is a key part of his playbook too. “We try to customize whatever we can for folks. If we have it in the kitchen, we’ll do it. We want customers to feel at home here,” he says.
He aims to please, but there is one request Gilberry is not sure he can meet, even when diners beg: a coach Saban sighting. “But maybe one day I can get ole Nick in here,” he laughed.
712 D’Olive St.
Bay Minette, AL 36507
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Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday & Friday;
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday & Sunday