Bibbs Smokehouse has only been open for three months, but restaurant owners Chuck Bibbs and Ronshene Smith already have plans for the surrounding land to bring back a community feel to Denver Corner.
By the end of the year, Bibbs appears to have continued to recapture the energy of bygone decades in Denver Corner, an area that was once its own city near the north side of Lake Thunderbird on Alameda Drive.
The city of Denver is an integral part of Norman history. While the area was mostly covered by water after Lake Thunderbird opened in the 1960s, landmarks still remain.
According to The Transcript, the Denver Corner grocery store, which later added a bait shop, was the birthplace of actor James Garner in 1928. The store has served as a record-holder for the largest fish caught at the lake for the past several decades.
“This corner has a long history and I’m just learning more about this area as I go through this process,” Bibbs said.
The building next to the corner store housed several restaurants, prior to Bibb’s Smokehouse, most recently the Primetime Cafe at the Lake, which served catfish and fried chicken steak.
Bibbs said the Austin and St. Louis-influenced barbecue restaurant is just the beginning of his plans. After buying the restaurant, he acquired the surrounding land.
What was once a boat storage facility will soon become a large roofed pavilion that can serve as an outdoor event space or event space.
Come rain, snow or shine, Bibbs envisions the area as a year-round gathering place. A fire pit on the field behind the restaurant and roll-up covers for the gazebo ensure visitors can brave the elements while enjoying smoked meats and fun with family and friends.
To the west of the future pavilion area, Bibbs is planning an outdoor stage area for live music. He envisions it will have a similar vibe to Hollywood Corners, a family restaurant and bar that often has live music in Norman.
Pickleball, sand volleyball courts and a children’s play area are among the recreational activities Bibbs plans to incorporate into Denver Corner’s revitalization over the coming months.
And if you want to spend a weekend at the lake, you can stay nearby at some point.
“We’re thinking about setting up 10 to 12 little one-bedroom cabins that people could come out and rent and spend some time at the lake — campgrounds are seasonal, but this would be something that’s open (year-round),” Bibbs said. “You would be right here with the celebrations, the food and the supermarket that we are about to reopen.”
Between Bibbs Smokehouse and the Convenience Store is another empty building that Bibbs wants to turn into a bakery.
According to Bibbs, Denver Corner is a high-traffic area for boaters, and a designated spot for boats and RVs will make the area an attractive place to find dining and recreation.
“If someone wants to come here for the weekend in an RV, they can come here and not have to go to the state park,” he said.
The recurring theme in Bibb’s plans is fun, food and family. With that focus, Bibbs said they could make Denver Corner a “lakeside destination.”
“This corner has a long history and I’m just learning more about this area as I go through this process,” Bibbs said. “We have a lot of space to work here.”
Completing liquor licensing and seating for the restaurant’s back patio are high on the list of future plans for Bibbs and his family. Then he will start working on the reopening of the convenience store.
“We want to get some bait and tackle going, get a cold beer here — this is the last stop before you get to the water and everyone missed that,” Bibbs said. “It’s been three years since there was anything in this (grocery) store and all 5,000 residents out here miss it.”
Bibbs said he expects the back patio and outdoor seating to be ready when the heat subsides.
“We’ll be out here by the fall, and man I can’t wait to hear the music,” he said.
Ward 5 councilor Rarchar Tortorello said residents of the area appreciate having something like Bibb’s Smokehouse in closer proximity than Norman himself. He said it’s also an incentive for people to come to the lake.
Tortorello said the restaurant and the owners’ plans for the grocery store and campgrounds are smart and fit with the local area.
“I look forward to going back and eating with my family, and I know hundreds of other families will do the same,” Tortorello said.