Ed Aiton is a man — if not after my own heart — certainly after my own clogged arteries. He’s taken an old Mae West quote — “too much of a good thing is … wonderful” — to the extreme.
“I just kind of gave it a shot,” he said. “I went in there one day and stayed there.”
It was just before 1 p.m. on a Thursday earlier this month, and Aiton was where he always is just before 1 p.m. five days a week — sitting at a table at Tyler’s Barbeque on Paramount Boulevard. In front of him were a small stack of sweet pickles, coleslaw, three slices of chicken, peach cobbler and three ribs.
“I know I sound prejudiced, but they’re the best I’ve ever eaten,” said Aiton of the ribs, “and I’ve eaten them all over.”
To say that the 79-year-old is at Tyler’s every day around the noon hour is not totally accurate. He’s there twice a day as he will also mosey in around 5:30 p.m. for dinner. It would probably be three times a day if Tyler’s was open early enough to serve brisket breakfast burritos.
“I think Ed possibly likes to eat barbecue more than I do,” said restaurant owner Tyler Frazer.
Earlier this year, Texas Monthly once again listed Tyler’s on its quadrennial list of the top 50 barbecue establishments in the state. Aiton could have wiped his mouth with a paper towel and told the editors that a long time ago.
“I was just curious after they opened,” Aiton said, “to see how their food tasted. I’m really happy I did.”
Tyler’s opened in May 2010. Between Frazer and Aiton, they aren’t exactly sure when he started arriving, but July of that year sounds about right.
“We weren’t as busy as we are are now,” Frazer said, “so it was not uncommon for someone to discover us and come two or three days in a row and try new stuff or bring friends. But with Ed, after two or three weeks, I started thinking, ‘I believe he’s coming in every single day.’”
He was, and still is. Aiton, a former insurance agent, is a widower. He’s also been a Type 2 diabetic since high school. Tyler’s Barbeque, with a rub that’s not dependent on sugar, agrees with him. He likes the smoked meats. The peach cobbler, heavy on the cinnamon, is a nice sugar substitute as well.
“But I always warn people who are diabetic, just because I do this doesn’t mean you should too,” he said. “Test it and find out.”
Aiton did, and now his veins bleed Tyler’s mild barbecue sauce. Once upon a time, he ate at Crazy Larry’s frequently, and he makes a foray over to Calico County or to Popeye’s for a chicken fix every so often.
But for about the last seven years, he’s been a one-restaurant man, though on rare occasions he may cheat a little bit. In fact, employees at Tyler’s have his cellphone and home phone numbers and call to check on him if they don’t see him. Aiton wards off any panic, however, when on those occasional times he’s not there, he will call to let them know.
Sometimes he can be a little late, sneaking in when employees are stacking chairs. “If the sign says, ‘Closed,’ don’t let that stop you,” he said.
Tyler’s is open five days a week, so Aiton comes in 10 times a week. For a year, that’s 520 times. As he hits seven years this summer, that’s an astounding 3,600 times for round figures.
“Really, 3,600 times?” Aiton said. “I can believe it.”
Aiton has varied his meals about as much as possible in his 3,600 trips, but he makes sure to follow the mantra of “give us this day, our daily ribs” pretty faithfully. His weight has remained at around 190 pounds.
On this day — let’s call it meal No. 3,548 — Aiton was sitting with Jim McGee, who can only make it to Tyler’s about three or four times a week. Aiton has his hearing aids in and is wearing a green Tyler’s cap, one of six he has.
“Let me show you a trick,” he said as he squirted barbecue sauce on his coleslaw. “A lady was eating here one time and put that on it. I tried it and it was really good.”
Aiton remembers when he was a kid and his dad, Charles, owned the Cleburne newspaper. When they went to nearby Fort Worth, his dad would take him to on old barbecue place behind the Hemphill-Wells department store. Sandwiches were 25 cents and drinks were a nickel.
He can’t remember the name of the place, but he darn sure knows the one he has frequented twice a day for seven years.
“The guys at Crazy Larry’s say they only miss one customer,” Frazer said, “and that I got him.”
“I heard that,” Aiton said, “but they can’t have me back.”
Jon Mark Beilue is an AGN Media columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-345-3318. Twitter: @jonmarkbeilue.