February 27

Big John’s by The Special Ron

I would say I was about 23 or 24 when I had my first BJ. As is often the case, I can’t remember the specific details that well


– I was probably drunk and happy with anything I could get – but what I do recall is how wonderful it felt. It was the start of an addiction. I knew at that moment, stood on the pavement just up the road from Acocks Green train station on a cold winter night, that I wanted many, many more BJs for years to come.

And so it came to pass… In the ten years or so since I have lost count of how many BJs I’ve had. I’ve had some early in the day, to help with a hangover. I’ve had plenty late at night, after one too many drinks. I’ve often had one on a Sunday afternoon with the football on the telly. Sometimes, on the way home from work, I hop off the bus and get one on Kings Heath High Street. Whatever the time and whatever the day, there’s nothing like a good BJ. Sometimes they are so good I even post photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I just cannot get enough.

Big John’s has now become something of a Brummie institution. From humble beginnings in Erdington, offering 99p meals, it now has over 17 branches across Birmingham and has even branched out as far afield as Leicester. It even has drive thrus and its own call centre for telephone orders now – I’d know.

Don’t believe me as to how wonderful it is? Well take a look at the shiny Lloyds TSB Asian Jewel Award (2006), the glistening British Asian Hafta Special Community Award (2008) and the illustrious Birmingham Chamber Best Retailer Award (2010), all sat proudly atop the counter proudly looking down on more pizza toppings than you can shake a giant kebab knife at.

So what’s the attraction?

Well, firstly, it’s a one stop shop for all your takeaway needs. It does naan kebabs. It does pizza. It does fried chicken. It does fish. It does chips. It does Indian snacks. It does paninis. It does desserts. It does everything you need. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it’s good. The food is GOOD. Thirdly, it’s cheap. A 12″ pizza is at least half the price you’d pay at Domino’s, Pizza Hut or the runt of the John family, Papa John’s.

It was donner meat and chips that first drew me to Big John’s in Acocks Green, having just moved into a shared house on Alexander Road. I would get home drunk and need kebab and chips – it was simple supply and demand. The staff were always friendly too. Well, to the extent that they’d be pleasant enough to me when I was drunk, no doubt secretly hoping I’d leave and never come back.

As with any addict though, it didn’t take long for me to hit the harder stuff. The donner meat and chips was no longer enough to satsify me – I needed more. The counter full of pizza toppings had always looked tempting, but I’d somehow resisted that temptation.

Then one day, I cracked. “How much is a pizza mate?” It was £1.99 for a 9″ pizza or £3.99 for a 12″ one. I needed 12 inches. “Is it extra for the toppings?” It wasn’t. It was a flat price with unlimited toppings. Big John had only gone and done it. What a man. He had done Birmingham proud. Less than four quid for a 12″ pizza with whatever toppings you liked?? Bill Shakespeare, another great Brummie, almost certainly had Big John and his bargain gastronomical delights in mind when he wrote; How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, that has such people in’t!

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And so I moved on to 12″ pizzas “with all your meat” as my stock order. And I got my friends involved. I know I shouldn’t have done, but I did. One girl who lived in the house shared my love of Big John’s (I’ve stopped the BJ gag now) so much that we went through a whole week of eating nothing but for tea. Either she or I would get one on our way home from work. Every night. For a week.

Things escalated and I was no longer able to wait the 10 minutes it took to cook my pizza without fuelling my addiction by other means. I would have a shish kebab and a shami kebab whilst waiting for my pizza to cook. I then missed my donner kebabs so asked if they could do me donner kebab as a topping on a pizza (something I’d discovered in my university days in Hull). This was Big John’s; could they do me a donner meat pizza? Of course they could! Could they add the tandoori chicken kebab meat off the other skewer too? No problem! A portion of chicken pakora to accompany the 12″ mixed kebab meat pizza? On its way, Sir!

My addiction remains but I have it more under control these days. My wife and children offer me the support I need and, much to my distaste (but ultimately to my benefit), will say “you had a Big John’s on Tuesday, why don’t you have some nice fish and green beans?” I know I’m not the only one out there craving a Big John’s almost hourly – 17 branches says it all. I haven’t funded its meteoric rise by myself – others will also have spent thousands fuelling their own addictions. Hopefully putting these words to paper will help those others realise that they’re not alone. It’s ok to want a Big John’s. It’s ok to HAVE a Big John’s. Just keep things under control.

Years since my first BJ and the brand is still going strong, as is my desire to order a mixed kebab pizza with a side of chicken pakora at almost any opportunity. Forget the new library, the transformation of New St Station and the rebirth of the Jewellery Quarter; the REAL success story of the last decade in the Second City is that of Big John.

BJ

by The Special Ron

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