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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Jim Neely

Essay by Joe York

Despite what we had come to expect of the Memphis pig… ordering you to order them, dressing up as chefs and cooking other pigs, smiling and spinning so gleefully on the spit you’d think them still in the sty… the idea of driving a car into one them was particularly strange. Still, standing in front of the mural nothing could have made more sense.

A car traveling up the painted path, passing under the sign, entering the pig under its grinning chin, tunneling through its tissue, that was the image in my head as I stood waiting at the counter to order a sandwich. A man stepped forward to take my order. Around his wrist he wore a golden bracelet etched into which was the name “James.” The scenes printed on the breast of his shirt and the front of his cap mirrored the mural. I ordered and stepped back to wait. Turning around I saw it again, this time printed on the front of a T-shirt hanging by a hook from the ceiling. The image was the same, but this time there were words with it.

Reading along, the riddle unraveled. I HAVE BEEN TO HOG HEAVEN … I ATE AT JIM NEELY’S INTERSTATE BAR-B-QUE.

I turned back to the counter. James sat the sandwich down. I handed him my money. As he made change I checked his ID. Hanging from a string around his neck, the ID showed the same face, but a different name, not James, but Jim, Neely.


SUBJECT: Jim Neely


See that’s the problem that you have in the food business. Unless you have a McDonald’s or chain or something like that, the barbecue business or the food business, whether you’re cooking steak or something like that, it’s predicated all on the owner or the person.

Interstate Bar-B-QPeople ask me all the time, what’s the difference between my barbecue and other people’s barbecue? I emphatically tell them it’s me. It’s definitely me. Because, whenever I’m out of here, the food don’t change that much but things change.

Attention to Detail changes?

I’m almost sure that’s what it is. Everything to me is important. My business starts where that asphalt ends and that concrete driveway starts in here. Then you’re on my property. My business starts there.

From that parking lot, all the way to the back, it’s important to me. I don’t give a damn how minute. There’s no such thing “I didn’t get around to it.” Well nothing, it’s not right. Your bathrooms, everything, if it’s not right, it’s just not right. But they don’t get that bent out of shape as I do. Cause they’ll just blow the hell out of me because the ketchup ain’t where its supposed to be or know about things or how cranky I am. It ought to be that that way. And instead of y’all walking around teasing me, man dad, he’s just raising hell cause he can’t blah, blah, blah.

It’s not about that. If you’re the type person where everything’s got to be right, your product will be right. You’ve got your nose to it. If you show up and “well, you know… . No, no, no that’s not the way it is.

I grew up in this town. Delta Airlines is getting ready to do a story on what makes Memphis barbecue so different. I guess when you grew up in a town where it’s always been done right and you’ve got a history of it. Well, you know how it’s supposed to taste. And, you’re not a good judge of something if you never went nowhere and you just did one thing in one place. But when you travel, you experiment, you venture out you experiment with things, you know.

I grew up in this town and I used to love the Memphis barbecue.

(Takes call.)

But there out in those small greasy spoon places. I used to go them and they were beer joints. I mean they had a juke box playing, man, and people would be drinking beer maybe dancing on the floor and they had these little small pits that maybe they could only could 10 or 12 slabs of ribs all day long. But my god, the detail that they were able to pay them. Every 5 minutes they’ve got this moping sauce. They’re in there mopping it and turning them and moping them. Man, when they come out.

When you eat today, you quest for that. Where is that taste at?

Where is that taste? It’s just not there. A lot of times, these little backyard barbecue places–

(Radio Call)

Tha t’s the thing that you look for. I used to go to Cobb Collor down on Beale Street . Up until a few years ago, there’s a little vendor down there selling barbecue. Man.

(Radio Call)

I thin k that’s the thing that really intrigued me about being in Memphis . When I got opened up here, barbecue was never, never, nothing I would ever do in my lifetime. It was never even a dream.

This little building right here, used to be grocery store and I bought that in ’79 to give my son a job. He came out of the military. We opened a little store and it was so profitable. I was in the insurance business, doing about six figures a year. I’m comfortable. It was so good, I said, you know, when maybe when I retire from insurance, I could sell a little beer, cigarettes, you know, make me a little extra income- utility bill or something.

So I asked the man if he’d give me long term lease. He said why don’t you buy the property off of me. Make you a good deal. So I bought it.

This was business and over there was a business. This was a beer joint and that was a little hamburger stand. They cooked (unclear). After I bought it, I started thinking barbecue. What made me start thinking barbecue, was I’d grown up in Memphis . I left here in ’55; January of ’55 I went into the military. I got out. I went out to California and stayed until ’72. I used to come to Memphis twice a year, up until moving here. The moment that I’d cross that river bridge, I’d head for the barbecue place- my favorite place to get me some barbecue.Interstate Bar-B-Q

What was your favorite place?

At that time, Jeff’s downtown, Joe’s, Uncle Joe’s (Unclear) Pepper. I mean these were great places. Johnny Mills was long gone by that time. They just had some great places.

After I got back here, all of a sudden, I couldn’t any good barbecue anymore in Memphis . All the old people had died. Small places, kids didn’t want it. Course they didn’t build it good, it was a job and it stayed a job. Whereas they could have expanded and been as big as Corky’s with the product they had. But they didn’t have that foresight or wisdom.

Next thing, I find myself, I live down there almost to State Line Road down toward Mississippi , straight down 30. You gotta understand, when I want barbecue I’m driving all the way across town to summer to Gridley’s. I said, damn, now something’s got to really be bad if I’m going to drive- you know it’s always the black neighborhood where the barbecue was. I’m going to dive there across all these black neighborhoods, all the way across Memphis to go over there to buy barbecue. Something is missing here. Where did we lose the thing?

So I started thinking about barbecue here. And I was going to get in there and help them for about six weeks. Now its been 23 years. I did the thing everybody do. I went out and built me a pit over there. Before I got ready to open up, I had this guy who had a barbecue place in my neighborhood in California . He was from Louisiana and he had a good product. Now all of a sudden- I was going back to California about twice a year- now I couldn’t wait to get back to California to eat his barbecue. I’m going all the way to California . I’m going to California . I’m leaving Memphis going there to eat barbecue.

I called him one day I asked what I was doing here. I asked him if I come out, would he show me some pointers? He said “I’ll show you everything but I won’t give you the recipe for my barbecue sauce.” Well I didn’t really want that no way.

The main thing that I really wanted to know- how in the world do you start out that fire and keep it going all day? Cause even in the back yard in the grill the fire would go out. You got to take the meat; if you don’t take the meat off, you got to shoot some lighter fluid and redo it. Now your meat’s going to taste like lighter fluid. That’s what I really wanted to know.

So I asked him, he said you don’t do that. I said what? He showed me his pit where he had devised a method where he burned natural gas and hickory wood. He fired that wood with gas and kept it burning where he had a constant temperature all the time.

So I cam back and modified that pit. And that way, I didn’t have to worry about all that charcoal and ash and being able to clean this thing out and what have you. It worked great. So later on, I took and built two great big ones that I designed and everything.

So you designed the pits?

The pits here and the four pits that are in Neely’s barbecue. That’s my nephew. I designed their pits. By cooking with them, we use indirect heat. Now hat’s my secret to keeping the moisture in my- my meat is so tender and moist. My ribs, will be so done. They’re pretty and golden and yet, still, when you reach the bone, the meat just comes off of it. Because,, I’m able to maintain that temperature. With indirect heat, I’m not searing this meat and scorching it.Interstate Bar-B-Q

In the meantime, when we’re using natural gas, I’m able to keep the flue 99% closed which means I’m maintaining the heat. On top of maintaining all the heat, I’m also maintaining all the moisture because, that meat that’s dripping that water and oil down into the bottom of that pit and that heat makes it evaporate and come into a humidity. So, that whole pit has always got moisture but it’s the flavor and the moisture from the meat- from their own juices.

You open the door of that pit when it’s really cooking your glasses, the first thing that they’re going to do is fog up. I never even had that in mind. I been going to barbecue contests and I see these guys got these cookers were they’ve go a way stick steam in it every now and then.

Well, what does steam do to a dirty carpet? It cleans it. That’s what it does to meat. Every time you shoot steam in it, you’re washing the flavor off. If you can do it with the same moisture from the drippings of that meat and that’s what happens. They cook real good. That’s the main thing, you’ve got to have something to cook on.

Then, for the first three years, I used Cattleman’s which is made by French’s, barbecue sauce, which is one of the best commercial barbecue sauces in my opinion. I would modify it and doctor on it. In the meantime, I started talking to them old people in my neighborhood. Old people that on holidays they used to barbecue in their backyard, and man. I talked to them and I got their recipes.

I would take a little of this. I’d come in that kitchen- about 2 or 3 years, I’d be making up a batch of sauce trying it and trying it. Then I’d let the customers try it until I finally got it right. I s hip barbecue sauce, right now, all over the country. All over this country, I ship barbecue country. People come through the Memphis Airport , they eat and take the sauce home and there’s not a day pass we don’t ship 2,3, or4 cases somewhere.

I’m working on a deal now, there’s a grocery chain with six stores up in Portland . I’ve got a friend there and I’ve been talking with this guy they’re all in the same yacht club. In fact, the guy that owns the store, he’s the commodore. His question to my friend was, “I like his sauce but shelf space. Why would anybody come into buy his sauce when they don’t know it?”

So I’m thinking maybe I could go on up there and do a display like the do at Sam’s. Cut food, let you taste it. If you can get a hundred people buying it who like it that day, it ain’t going to do nothing but grow. They’re going to tell somebody else about it and it’s going to grow and then you’ll be out there in that part of the country. You won’t have to be shipping. You can tell people, it’s in the stores in Portland .

If you can the next six stores to go pretty good, maybe some other chain or a big chain will look at it. Like I say, if it happens, it happens. If it don’t, hell, it don’t bother me. They’re so many avenues, things I could do. If we had the people to do it with. See that’s the hardest thing about success.

Interstate Bar-B-QWhat’s the trick to growth while maintaining quality and reputation?

Trying find somebody that thinks and feels the same way that you do. That’s a hard thing, to find people who think and feel the way you do. But, unless you have that you’ve really got a problem. I could probably run six or eight places right now. But I’ll never find that continuity of people. You’ve got to go in with people that — First of all, that first of all you trust with product and seco nd of all that you trust with your money. Right here in Southahven, the fastest growing area in whole state of Mississippi , Southhaven , Mississippi the fastest growing, right there at Goodman Road , right now, there’s some facilities that have been closed. It’s right at that Wal-Mart. That Wal-Mart is 24/7. You can hardly get in there. But right out there in the front of it there’s a Backyard Burger, Chick-fil-a, Schlotzky’s. But there’s a facility that’s closed. (Unclear) If I do that, that means I got to go to work every day. I do it every day anyway, but… I just right close to there from my house- over this hill. I live right at Shelby drive and Weaver which is Mississippi 301. So, once I get in my car, seven minutes, I’m at Goodman Road . All I have to do is go across.

It’s just hard because I travel quite a bit. I’ll be gone all of May. Then I’ll be gone part October. In between June and October, I’m going to find somewhere else to go. Then, I’m going back to Europe for 3 or 4 weeks and it’s time for me to that. In the meantime, if you can grow and find people to grow with, then you’ll grow.

Airport Location

The place I’ve got in the airport, I really would like out of there. I’d like to take my people out of there then I could put them in Southaven . The airport is no great place really to be. You’ve got a captive audience, but I don’t need a captive audience. People that need a captive audience are people who don’t have too good of a product and he needs that. Whereas you come through, either buy this or you don’t eat don’t eat nothing. Last year, this is two years in a row, the airport authority, off of my sales- your rent is based on your sales- the airport authority earned $5,500 per square foot. That’s what they earn in rent.

If I wasn’t in there, I could take them people. I could take $100,000 and pay $12,000 in rent. If I were to pay $12,000 rent on the outside market, I would be talking about Germantown , or somewhere. Plenty of space. Nice place and my sales would probably be $250 to $300 thousand dollars a month. I’ve got the product. I know I have it. After 20 something years, all these magazine articles, people writing me up. I’m USA Today or something. I know good and well what we would be doing. It’s not no great thing. Everybody’s chattering and running around thinking airport, airport, airport you know and it sounds good. But everything that sounds good is not that good.

Plus, you’re limited. You’ve got all these restrictions. First of all, if you’re in the airport, then you’ve got to be there under the umbrella of HostMariott. Now you’re going to do a partnership with them. Then second, when you get from under that umbrella, you’ve got the Airport Authority. Then you’ve got the FAA. Who needs it. Who needs it.

I appreciate the security. I fly a lot. But I mean for a business person. Atlanta Georgia , all these big stores in there selling these fashionable clothes and stuff. A great facility, their sales are made because Atlanta is a big airport. Memphis airport is a hub, but it is known as a 45 minute hub. Meaning, just about the longest that you’re going to be on the ground, is 45 minutes. But with Atlanta , you’ve got a hub that it’s a big, big, international airport.

There are people going to be coming in from everywhere to that hub, going to England , Paris , and places. Man, you’ve got 2 and one-half or three hour layover. These are the people who are going to go in those stores. They’re rally going to go is they’ve got a girlfriend or a relative who lives in Atlanta who’s going to spend those 3 hours with them. They’ll probably eat. Then, they’re going to start browsing and looking in the stores. Then they’ll start traveling. Think about it; they’ve got all this damn inventory that they cant get the market in there.

Like I say, I can definitely understand it because September 11th was a wake-up call. It’s bad because it’s the American public; we’re the one who are going to have to always suffer. There’s probably not a person in there that would meet a relative that would a person that would do something. I don’t know if they’re trying to keep the numbers where they can keep a better eye on what’s going on or what. I don’t even believe a terrorist is going to operate or nothing like that. Cause if he can’t get on an airplane or get out there on the tarmac ain’t nothing he can do to much.

Even without being back there in the back, the back of the Memphis airport, what the hell’s to stop one from coming in there and going into one of the bathroom or something leaving a big bomb or something in the bathroom and he goes on down to his gate. If he put enough stuff in there he’ll still blow up half of the airport, you know. You can’t stop terrorists. You can’t stop a person that want to kill you, especially if you don’t know who he his. You’ve got to build you a vault and get in and stay in. That’s about he only way cause if you come out.

I came in there. When I came in and opened up, the store was still there. This was the only dinning room we had, right here. This was the dining room. Well, we got busier. People were waiting to get in. After a couple of years, we knocked this here hole out and we took up half of the store. We still kept one half where you could come, go to the mailbox. Well, we look around. Six months later, people still in the door. Then we took all of the store. Then, a year later, they’re still out of the door. Then we took and added on to back all the way across, where we can seat about 265 people.

Your growth is really dependent upon how well you prepare and the product you put out for the people. If you don’t put nothing out (unclear) people are not coming back.

What’s do you want customers to know when they taste your food?

I think that when they come in and eat they there’s lots of time and lots of pride and there’s a lot of satisfaction that you get out of that. Shit, I’m gong to make money. That’s what I’m in business for, but there’s a lot of satisfaction when you get these different magazine articles. Like this article here ran saying we were the best little pork house in Memphis. When that ran these people went out and ate at every barbecue place in Memphis and rated them with stars. Four was the highest that you could get. I was the only one who got four. This people Magazine article, they went around to 36 states eating barbecue all over the country and they come up with a top 10. We came in number 2. USA Today, last year, said Memphis is one of the best airports in the country to be stranded in simply because of the barbecue that’s in the airport. Then they came back about a month later and did an article. They said Interstate barbecue was the best pulled pork sandwich in America. Then a year or so before that they did a sub-line? diner review of where to eat certain foods in America. My restaurant and the Bunting Street restaurant were the only two that made that sub-line? dining review and, that’s where to eat in America. Mine was for the pulled pork sandwich and Bunting Street was for a home cooked meal, which was real good because channel 3 came down and did interview us. They got about 2 or 3 minutes on at lunch time. Every time your name is out there, you want people to remember it.

People come in from all over the country with magazine article in their hands. I had article that ran in the Associated Press which is over on the wall and they’re some more around on the other side. I had one guy come all the way from Germany because the Associated Press goes everywhere. That’s been my growth.

When I started off my growth, I didn’t do no advertising. People come ask me about advertising, I still had my insurance agency going. I wasn’t hurting for money. I had enough money coming. I was able to set here and take my time and develop this thing.

And, I’ve done a lot of things slowly. Like I helped my nephews get in business. A couple of years time, they saw Corky’s barbecue sauce on the market. They jumped in and put some on the market. (Unclear) You want to know the truth, that’s one of their weaknesses, their barbecue sauce. It’s not hat great. Barbecue sauce is like a man and woman in marriage. If they don’t compliment each other, pretty soon, they just don’t go together.

Sauce versus Meat

It’s a combination of both. There’s an old clichÈ: You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit. So, if you’ve got chicken shit, I don’t care whose sauce you put on it, it’s still chicken shit. If you’ve got a good piece of meat that’s cooked pretty good and you’ve got a good sauce, it’s going to compliment almost anything. If it’s good, it’s good.

A-1 steak sauce, one of the best that you can almost buy. It goes good with anybody’s steak. Now any old taste is great unless you’ve got a great steak. To me a real great steak, like a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, it doesn’t even need no sauce. The marinating and the seasoning that they put on it is all that you really need.

Lots of times when you put sauce on it or something you’re trying to cover a taste. When cover see somebody eating something, and they’re moving it around or shaking something, they don’t like it.

My ribs, I eat them dry. I eat them with sauce on them. Of course, we know that people eat barbecue with sauce on them because it goes together. It’s like cake and ice cream. They go together. You expect barbecue sauce.

The first time and judged the Memphis barbecue contest about 27 years ago. I was an inside judge. They bring this meat out to a big table around a big table they bring us so many trays of meat with numbers on them. I’m sitting there picking this meat, pulling it apart. Then I would eat the meat. Take my time. Chew it; swallow it. Then I’d take my finger do the sauce. Take a piece of meat put on the sauce. What am I looking for? First of all doneness. That’s why I’m pulling it. Second of all I’m looking for flavor and moisture. Now I’m looking t see if they compliment each other. They didn’t know anything about that. It was just a bunch of people who envy because they were VIP down there judging. The next year after I did that, they started a judging school. Most of them, they really didn’t know you know.

A good cook ought to know a little bit about spices. He ought to know hat a certain spice does and how it reacts.


All of our shoulders are pre-rubbed before they’re cooked. The shoulders that are going to be cooked tonight have already been rubbed. We’ve got a shake rub that we shake on them. This rub was designed by me using paprika, chili powder, different herbs, a small amount of cumin and no salt.

Interstate Bar-B-QNo salt in the modern world

Different blends, there’s going to be some of that in there anyway, especially some of these preservatives. I designed that (Interstate rub). That same seasoning. That’s the same seasoning that goes in my barbecue sauce. When I’m cooking a 60 quart batch, a full four cup, cup of that goes in there, along with my other spices. And, that goes into just about everything that we cook. When I’m cooking my chicken, I take that same sauce, that same seasoning mix. Now, I take it and add salt and black pepper to it and blend it up real good and we go from there.

You have a flavor profile/a consistency/When it comes from you people can recognize what they taste.

That’s right.

Interstate. That’s all right because you know that you’re talking to Jim Neely and you know that there’s a Neely’s barbecue. It’s so easy to say. So many times people say “I’m going to Neely’s” I’m talking about Interstate. But you never really know which one you’re talking about because the boys get lots of notoriety form our name. That’s the reason they used it. People say… aw hell man, they’re my brother’s kids. Hell, he died early.

Same flavor profiles at Neely’s

Entirely different. Their seasoning and the sauce is entirely different. I helped them design their pit but that (sauce and seasoning) I don’t give to no one.

My brother in California, I gave it to him. He has to order through me. But when he wants to do it, I’ll call and have 4-5-600 pounds delivered to him.

Blend your own spices?

I used to. Flavorite were doing it, but they got so big, they quit. So I got a company up in Little (Shoe)? Wisconsin that does it. I can’t recall the name of it. They even bottle my sauce up and they’re pretty big up there. Funny damn named company. Flavorite recommended them to me and they do all my bottling of my sauce. In fact, I must have half a truck load coming in now.

Then I’ve got a little old company out here ICA that I now will buy the stuff that I use here with my seasoning, like my onion salt, my cumin, black pepper, and stuff, I get it at ICA Ingredient Corporation of America.

(Unclear) I’ve had another company come through, he’s doing Hog Wild sauce and a few other people. He came to me and I said let me tell you something, “when I got somebody doing something and it’s working for me. I don’t give damn if you going to be .20 a bottle cheaper. I’m not going to take that chance.”

My taste is out there. Now when a customer buys some it’s going to a be a little different because you’re doing it. And, there ain’t no way that you can tell me that it’s going to taste the same cause it’s not going to taste the same. I don’t give a damn what he says. Because, the special (unclear) that I gave the on ketchup, you can’t use this old run of the mill Hunts, regular mustard. Heinz is cheap. You may look at a can of Hunt’s tomato paste and it my say 33 and 1/3% tomato sauce. It may have once been. It’s been through the damn repack (unclear). See mine’s got to come 33 and 1/3 and it’s not a repack. It’s go to be heavy. It’s got to really be a 33 and a 1/3 but not a repack. Lot’s of time you buy that 33 and 1/3 repack and you cut it, cut it and keep cutting and you get through and you cook it. You just don’t’ have that consistency and that texture that you want. You can tell. You just watch it run back out like water (slipping sound). No flavor will be in it. Really won’t.

Speaking of moving slow. For years, I never carried fries in here. When I stated out. (Break)

If you go slow in your affairs, you’ll find that you know what you want. I finally opened up, two weeks before Christmas, a USDA kitchen. Put in almost 300 and something thousand dollars back there in this building.

First two weeks, we such a success. When we opened up FedEx came in and downloaded software. I went and bought a brand new computer and they downloaded it. We put that system in and we were limited on what we could do. We had to keep calling them back. We were so successful after the first two weeks that FedEx came out and bought a complete computer system networked direct to them. I could take a package and send it to you and I can track that package from the moment it leaves here until the moment it gets to your house. I also know what it costs and everything.

A box leaves out Federal Express, it’ll go two ways. They’re going to charge me either by weight or dimension whichever is greater. So, we put the weight in and we put the dimensions in and the computer tells you the rate. When I get through, it puts out the weight and everything. My sticker goes on. When they pick it up, it’s ready to roll.

When it prints it out, it prints out a receipt for me, which is my invoice to pay Federal Express with. They don’t even have to bill me. (Unclear) write a check though. It’s going to be good because people were so receptive. People were sitting there waiting. They say I’ve been (unclear) but that really wasn’t what I wanted. But, since it was the only dog in town, we had to hunt with it. Plus we didn’t limit them.

Going to Corky’s is like going to McDonald’s. I want a number one or a number three or a number 4. That’s a pound of meat and a side of ribs with a bottle of sauce etceteras. I always say, “whatever you want. You want me to send a half pound of meat and spend that kind of money? I will send a half pound of meat. Do you want to send 5 and a half and three racks of ribs?” I’ll send it the way that you want it.”

Now it may come a time if I ever get big enough. Man, coming Christmas time when you’re sending 100 packages a day you ain’t got time to be back there (unclear) it. You’ve got to have it already ready to rock and roll. Then it may be different. But until that time, I like to keep it just the way you want it.

Logistics. How does it get done during the busy season?

We were able to go out and do it with the management team, this year. As we grow back there, I will constantly bringing in people to work the USDA kitchen. I will take people out of here and put them there and replace them here- take my experienced people. But you’d be surprised man, 3 people back there can put out a lot of food. Especially when you’ll start say back in October. Then I can seal it and freeze it. You come up and all of a sudden you need 10 racks of ribs you got to back and get ten racks or ribs and (unclear) and they’re gone. That’s where we’re (unclear). We’re even shipping the links. We ship the rib tips. We shipping chicken. Most of them aren’t doing it. We even ship the beans. I can’t ship the slaw cause you can’t to freeze it.

We’re still looking at containers. We’re still experimenting. I got on the internet yesterday cause one of the boxes that Corky’s uses, I got one of those Styrofoam boxes they use. I got a company name of it and I asked them to send me a catalog and have a salesman call me. Some of the boxes I’ve got, they do OK, but just for two racks of ribs, they’re just not really practical. They’re too big and their dimensions are wrong- too much dimension. That’s what I’m interested in. It takes time to acquire what you need.

Airport Location

I met with HostMarriott yesterday. They’re getting ready to open up a Budweiser Brew House in the Airport. Now because of the success that I’ve had at the airport. The only reason that I’m in there is because Host Marriott had this place the Tennessee Tavern and they weren’t doing a damn thing with them. They probably weren’t’ doing 4-5-600 dollars all day in that whole tavern. That’s with beverage and everything.

I went in there just like a Sunday, even as slow as it is, Sunday, I did over $2,000 in my window and they sold over $1,000 worth of m food in their shop. There’s 3,000 there. They sell $3,000 worth of food, naturally, their beverage sales go up. So, beginning with this Budweiser Brew House which will open up the middle of next month, it’s going to be, when you come through B concourse, you’ve got the pro golf shop, right around the corner is going to be this Budweiser Brew House. The only smoking restaurant that’s going to be in the airport.

To open it up, they had to have minority participation. I was one of the three that (unclear) name in. They had a super duper guy from Maryland come in and talk to us. Came back a couple of weeks later with is family and he told me I didn’t get it but, however, we want to use our product.

Right away, and I let him know. (Unclear) Like he told me, we’ll talk about it. Couple of years later, I said I’m going to call him and ask him. He said “you were so close and your identity and what you do. But the only thing that made you different was, the guy that they chose was a Burger King man and as you know we’re the largest in the country in Burger King. The accounting system was so much in line with what we are doing.”

I said, “Let me ask you this, are you selling accounting because you should have went with Ernst and Young if that’s what you were looking for. If I had the product, how much would it be to adopt your accounting system to yours? I’m doing it at the airport. When y’all sell my food over there, I’m accepting our accounting system at the airport. When you’re telling me what y’all have sold every day. How do I really know?

So, y’all don’t sell my food. I got to thinking about it. I said hell. Then I told them I was going to leave. Lot’s of pilots started asking me was I really going to leave. I’d wish you’d stay. So I decided that I’m going to go and let them do it.

We met with them yesterday just trying to get some feelers on how we’re going to do this, price wise and what have you. I got a contract at home. It’s all blank. But the wording and everything, I read it. I did lots of underlining. One section, I can’t license nobody else to do that in that airport. Not even myself. I can’t even open up nothing else in there.

I can’t buy that. I’m going to let you take my product and now you can walk all over the airport cause you know I got a winner. That won’t be in the contract. (Unclear) Cause I don’t’ really need it. It’s not going to be that great amount of money that I’m going to be making out of it. And the headache they give me over there every day and whatever, I don’t really need that. We going to do some fine tuning. The guy I met with, he’s going to send me up… He’s from the corporation and that’s his job. I think that he thinks he’s really smooth, you know. But I went over with my little high school education. I sat down and read this shit you know. You don’t have to be no MIT lawyer to read certain some things. And, another thing in there, we’re looking at a year, but with a 90 day notice they can successively add on and add on. I don’t bind it up.

If that’s going to be the case, then what about if the price of the meat starts going up? There’d have to be something. I mean I don’t want to do that. Let’s do it any other time. Right now they don’t now. Right now, this coming May, the contract is supposed to be over with. Because of September 11th, Host has an extension of year in their contract. But after that year, they don’t even know if they’re going to be there or not.

This whole thing was, since the airport authority is so in tune with me and what I do, they’re hoping that’ll be a plus- that they’re selling my barbecue. The Airport Authority, what do they want? They want sales. Why do they want sales? Because that’s income for them. Northwest Airlines, they want sales. Because everything that’s sold in that corridor lowers their landing figures. See what I’m saying.

It gets silly out there; it does. I’ve got that little rope area. They went and talked to my son in law saying I didn’t know that you had moved that stuff. Right at the end of that rope, right there where that Northwest section is, they went and put a garbage container there. Then they set a rack up there to put my knives, forks and the tops for the sodas. That means a person comes to window to get a soda. Now he’s got to go around the corner. Nowhere to set it and try to hold his bag or whatever and put a top on it which was crazy to me.

A woman who works for Host came up there and got a sandwich. As soon as she got to the end of that thing, about where that garbage can started out of that rope area, she slipped and fell in some water. They ended paying Host $6,900 in workman’s comp.

Now their insurance company is sending me a letter. First of all, I don’t have a damn thing to do with that out there. That’s the Airport Authority and (unclear) the water on the floor. Second of all, the girl that fell that manager from the food kitchen was up there with her. He saw, prior to that happening, the Host man came and empty that garbage can. It must have been water in it. You say you saw water dripping on the floor and that’s what she slipped in. (Unclear)

I’m not responsible for that. I don’t mop the halls out there.


Another, example. They’ve got the big food prep kitchen downstairs. In there, they’ve got three walk-in coolers and a walk-in freezer. In there for Corky’s products and my products, we’ve got a roll-in cage with locks on it. That’s where we put our solid meats and out other meat. We lockup stuff in there.

Some of Corky’s stuff’s been missing. Now I been going to that food prep kitchen for years and half the time at night, they don’t even lock it. The janitorial people, the Northwest Airlines people, all of them is down in that basement. When they’re not loading airplanes, they’re down there. They can walk into that kitchen and walk into that cooler about any time they want to. They finally put a lock on the door. I had a key for my people to go in and out. To close up, we’ve got to be able to go down there and put the meat up.

Here we are one day, without even having a meeting with us or telling us why, (You know, I’m a partner out there.) he changed the locks. Our people go out there, they can’t even get in. What the hell’s gong on? Like I told him, you don’t have ask me, cause you don’t work for me. But in as much as I’m a partner, and I was out here even before you came here as new manager, it would have been a courtesy for you to tell me that you were trying to prevent loss.

We have another area right out before you go into that door, it’s a dry storage area where we’ve got great big old fenced in yards in there like at our house. It’s where you keep potato chips, bread, spare equipment and everything. Shit, he locked that door. You can’t get in there without his manager or having the key.

Now you can go out there on Sunday and they’re short handed and if that guy is gone up and got t go all the way down and up to the front. Up B or got to go all the way across to C or A and carry some food. You’ve got wait until he comes back.

I may have a manager out there delivering something and told him 30 minutes to deliver something and get back. Now, all a sudden, it’s an hour. They still won’t give me a key.

They say, what about (unclear) and his manager. His manage is responsible for that. Anything comes missing, he’s responsible. I don’t need that kind of stuff.

Early Memphis/ Rib Sandwich

When you used to sell a rib sandwich, now we do a rib sandwich, but we put it on a three section plate. Your rib, your slaw, and your beans.

When I was a kid, your rib sandwich came on bread and it had the tastiest damn slaw you’d ever seen. They’d take that piece of bread put that slaw on it cut out three or four ribs like that put that bread on top of it. Naturally, you’re going to pull it apart and eat it.

You know they didn’t put a lot of sauce like today, because when it comes out of the pit, remember, the sauce was already cooked in as you went. See, that’s the beautiful part about that.

When we do ribs here, they’re going to really wet because you don’t put sauce on while you’re cooking. Because in a commercial pit, you’d be cleaning it every night. Every time you’d get through, it’d be time to clean it. With commercial cooking, you just can’t do that.

The little small places, like were talking about the guy over at Hawkins Grill, you got time to mop that stuff. They don’t ever clean the pits, no way. Maybe that’s why they taste so good.

You don’t have to put no sauce on it. The thing about putting sauce on meat when it’s cooking, when it’s hot, it has a way of drawing. You put sauce on top of it and it draws it all the way through to the bone. And when you eat, that flavor is all they way through.

That’s what I like about these pits here. We’re able to get that pit up and keep that temperature whereas pretty soon, that bone is 300 degrees in the inside.

Those pits here, it’s 300 degrees. Ribs. Shoulders about 325 degrees and beef brisket, we turn it down.

Back in the back, I’ve got a commercial Old Hickory Pit which is a great pit. Ribs it runs about 230 degrees. Again, because the size of these pits, they’re so vast. These pits are 8′ tall, 8′ wide and 6′ deep. When you get 300 degrees up there it’s a lot different between that 300 and 250 and that other pit of course is smaller and compact. It’s different.

Operation of Gas Pits (Does a drawing)

In that pit, on the outside, you’ve got the firebox over here like this off to the side and you’ve got two tongues in that firebox. Over here, you’ve got a gas burner. Over here, you have the wood. And this one here, I’ve go a quarter inch plate rack that slides out and I load that with wood and charcoal.

So now, under here, I’ve got about an eight inch fireplace lighter. Most of them are about that long. When you light it, naturally, it’s going to burn-up. So I’ve got one of those in. I turn it on. Turn it all the way up and when that thing gets hot enough, it starts the wood to smoldering and the charcoal smolders.

It’ll go a long time. It’ll take long time to catch on fire. It’ll smolder a long time and you get that smoke. You heard me say 99% because up at the top there is flue. It’s cracked just a little. By being tall up in the air, it doesn’t take much for it to pull. With the firebox her and the fire over here, that damn thing pulls all that smoke right up through there.

It can’t just go right out. So it hits the top and comes back around. Works it way right back down. You don’t crack it that much. You keep mostly everything in there.

When you try to have it right here and the charcoal is here, one of two things is going to happen, you’re going to have to know how much coals to put to keep that fire from being hot, hot, hot.

See, the old pit master at Leonard’s, he had to sit there all night long. Sit there all nigh long. We load these damn pits up and go home. These pits cook all night long.

Every Sunday, they’re steam cleaned. We’ve got a great big drainpipe, great big tanks outside. All that grease runs outside.

Date of interview:
2002-01-01 00:00

Brian Fisher

Amy C. Evans

Other Project Interviews



The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


Alex Raij Txikito

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