By Published On: April 22, 2023Categories: Stories

Story By Wil Crews / Photos By Hannah Lester

Joseph Shorter is a vegetarian. The 41-year-old entrepreneur is also the proud co-owner of Opelika’s newest barbecue restaurant, Twice Baked.

Located in downtown at 909 S. Railroad Ave, the family-owned restaurant specializes in a variety of smoked meats and, true to its name, twice baked potatoes.

When customers first arrive, they are greeted with tantalizing messages written on the storefront’s windows. “Don’t be a hater, come get the taters,” could intrigue even the biggest of skeptics. Once customers enter, they notice one oversized, spacious dining room that emits a downhome country cooking atmosphere similar to that of a Cracker Barrel.

Homespun grain sacks hang from the ceiling; what appears to be a factory-worthy air duct stretches from end to end; and a newly renovated bar and platform stage perfectly combine to highlight the rustic décor. All this lends to an atmosphere, as Shorter describes it, that is “laid back, cozy and comfortable.”

Although the aura is important, above all, customers come to Twice Baked for the food. The menu consists of everything from sloppy joes, Philly cheesesteaks, ribs, wings and tacos to the trademark twice baked potato.

“If you’re looking for a salad or something, you’ve come to the wrong place,” Shorter said.

He says customers who visit his restaurant get that post-thanksgiving, food-induced sleepy feeling.

“That’s called the ‘itis,’” he said. “You’ve heard of the Midas touch, here at Twice Baked, we have the ‘itis touch.’”

Overall, the freshness of what Twice Baked delivers to its customers is the difference. Shorter knew he wanted to open a business with fresh food concepts – and he didn’t want to fry anything. Every day at Twice Baked, the bread is baked fresh. Each rub and sauce is homemade, in house. All the meats are cut daily and smoked to perfection.

“You don’t have to have no teeth to eat my meat,” Shorter said.

So, how does a vegetarian come to open up a barbecue restaurant? Like most things in life, Shorter and his restaurant had to endure some failure before they could relish in any success.

The story goes back to New Jersey in the 1980s.

That’s where Shorter spent a large portion of his early childhood and where his vegetarian roots were laid.

“My Mom raised us like that,” Shorter said. “She taught me a lot about the mind and what meat does to the body.”

When his mother passed, Shorter and his family moved to Tuskegee. From there, to Opelika. Shorter would go on to graduate from Opelika High School in 2000. Eventually, however, his life took an unexpected downward turn.

“I got into a little trouble and I did some time in prison,” Shorter said.

But during that time, Shorter was determined to learn how to better himself, and in turn, others.

“I wanted to study how to help people, especially people with problems,” he said.

So, during his time in prison, Shorter studied psychology and business, two skills that would fortuitously set him up for the position he finds himself in today.

Shorter’s time there was humbling, he said, and opened his eyes to the potential he now sees in everyone.

“A lot of the time, people misunderstand people with complications or people get judged wrong,” he said. “If you can get into their head and see what’s going on, you will change your whole mindset. Everyone has a story.”

This story of this vegetarian barbecue connoisseur could have been labeled much differently – and it only gets better from here.

Upon getting out of prison, Shorter found himself serving in the restaurant business but grew increasingly frustrated with the lack of opportunities.

“Nobody would give me a chance,” he said. “I was training managers but they wouldn’t promote me.”

With his learned knowledge of the human psyche and business, Shorter decided he wanted to start his own restaurant. He would give the people what they want.

But before he could begin, he had to prove to people that his food was actually good. People would ask, as a vegetarian, how does he know what the meat tastes like?

“I drink the broth,” Shorter said simply.

Thus, he started selling his plates from house to house for about seven to eight months. It was then that his savory meats began to catch on.

“That’s when I said, ‘I’m going to open a spot up,’ but it wasn’t easy,” Shorter said.

Twice Baked, version one, officially opened in 2018 by the Goalpost Package Store located at 190 N. Donahue in Auburn. It was a small operation, but it gave Shorter a start.

After a year of filling the bellies of stressed out college students, Twice Baked moved to downtown Opelika.

“This place gave me more of an opportunity to meet more people,” Shorter said. There was a good bit of work to be done, and after a year of renovations, Twice Baked – version two – was opened to the Opelika community in July 2020.

Shorter is adamant that he could not have made it here on his own. His business partners, Anthony Burgess and Chris Thompson, whom Shorter considers brothers, were crucial to Twice Baked’s growth.

“If it wasn’t for [Anthony] and Chris, there would be no Twice Baked,” Shorter said. “It’s all of us. I can’t take all the credit.”

Still, even with all the success, Shorter can’t help but think of the time in his life where he was less fortunate. That period serves as a constant reminder of what he is working for. In truth, it provides the inspiration for the entire mission of Twice Baked – to help people.

Of course, he hopes for his business to thrive financially by helping customers fill their bellies. But Shorter’s ultimate goal is to share what he’s learned with others.

“I want to show other brothers and sisters that you can do what I did,” he said. “A lot of black people’s self-esteem is low. They don’t feel like they have the capability or knowledge to go try something on their own. I’m trying to get more people that encouragement and self-confidence, that’s what we need more of.”

Shorter said he strives to help people get rid of negative energy and has even taken up meditation in his spare time.

“People need to take chances and follow their dreams and their heart,” he said. “Know your selfworth. God has you alive for a reason. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s how you turn it into something positive.”

For Shorter, “love is the key,” he said, and he has big plans to pack more love into Twice Baked.

“I’m going to have open mic nights, live music, game nights and I hope the bar will be stocked soon,” he said.

But his ambitions don’t stop there.

“I’m going to open four or five more restaurants; I want to open a bakery too.”

For now, Shorter and his colleagues will continue serving up their variety of fresh, home-seasoned meats. He only had one last message for the people of Lee County: “Hop in your car and come give us a try. If your stomach is touching your back, come to Twice Baked. Come get you some food; something different. We’re all about good vibes and love here.”

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