For 29 years, Corky’s Ribs & Bar-B-Q has been serving up pulled pork and ribs with a side of beans, slaw and innovation.
Andy Woodman, from left, Barry Pelts, Jimmy Stovall and Don Pelts of Corky’s show their new cookbook, “Cookin’ With Corky’s.” The cookbook was released May 1 and sold 30,000 preorder copies.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)
In 1984, founder Don Pelts, who owned The Public Eye in Midtown at the time, was waiting patiently for the location at 5259 Poplar Ave. in East Memphis to come available. When it finally did, he found himself surrounded by fast food joints, so he added his own drive-thru.
When devotees in other states called clamoring for the smoked pork in their own kitchens, he shipped it to them via FedEx.
When Pelts thought not enough food lovers knew the name, he began selling his wares on QVC.
Another milestone in the Corky’s empire happened last week when the cookbook “Cookin’ With Corky’s” went on sale.
“He would tell you right now, all he was hoping for was that he would make enough money to pay his bills; he is a pessimist by nature,” Barry Pelts said of his father, who has retired and passed the business down to his son and son-in-law, Andy Woodman.
The 240-page book, with 165 recipes and 200 photos that include vintage pictures from the Corky’s collection and new from local photographer Jay Adkins, is published by Favorite Recipes Press of Nashville. The publisher works with nonprofits, companies and individuals, and has published 1,500 cookbook titles since 1961.
The local representative for Favorite Recipes Press, Sheila Thomas, has worked on specialty cookbooks for the Junior League of Memphis and the Women’s Exchange, and has sold cookbooks on QVC for years. It was in the green room at the station one day that she sold the idea of a Corky’s cookbook to Jimmy Stovall, purveyor of barbecue on the home shopping channel.
“He really saw the vision for it,” Thomas said.
Stovall has worked for Corky’s for 15 years, beginning in the drive-thru line and working his way up the ladder. He now manages the Cordova restaurant as well as spending about 100 days per year in West Chester, Pa., working on-air with QVC.
Stovall’s longevity with the restaurant is not a fluke; Barry Pelts said the average employee has been with the company for 18 years. It’s a family, and that is the primary theme of the book, which took about a year to put together.
“There’s not a recipe in there that I wouldn’t serve at my own house.”
Don’t look for a recipe for the best-selling sauce, though. Barry Pelts said there are franchisees who pay good money for that secret. What you will find are recipes for what to do with that sought-after sauce, or with that extra half-pound of pulled pork left over from dinner. And those recipes come from customers or, as the restaurateurs refer to them: family.
“This is not just corporate jive talk,” Don Pelts writes in the cookbook’s introduction. “This is how we feel.”
Corky’s sells pulled pork, ribs and chicken online and through QVC, its sauce is sold in thousands of grocery stores around the country and for years the team has heard from people who use their sauce in baked beans or their chicken in gumbo or their shoulder in shepherd’s pie.
“We just wanted to share all those stories from people all over the country, or the family of Corky’s or the people who work at Corky’s,” Stovall said by phone from Pennsylvania. “That’s where it came from. It’s like a community of Corky’s from all over the country.”
Barry Pelts, whose favorite recipe is S’mores Pie from the section labeled “Cakes, Shakes, Crumbles & Pies,” adds, “Our success, as much as everybody says it’s all about the food, it’s all about the people. You can have the greatest recipes in the world, but if you don’t have the people to execute it, you have nothing. We have so many employees that have so many great recipes, they’re all from the deep South, they’re all from Memphis. … We wanted to bring it all together and have the Corky’s family recipes, and that’s really what it is.”
Pre-sale numbers had reached nearly 30,000 before the publication date of May 1. It is available on QVC, at Amazon.com and The Brooks Collection on the Collierville Town Square. More retailers are expected to be added later.
The advantage, said Thomas, is Stovall’s exposure on QVC and the chances for cross-promotion with the meat products, sauce and book.
“Opportunities like this don’t happen very often in the cookbook world,” she said.
The initial printing of books was 45,000, and all involved are happy with the product and the reception so far.
“I’m tickled to death,” Barry Pelts said. “It’s probably 10 times what I thought it was going to be.”
As for Stovall, toiling away in the North to sell to the rest of the country a product that is distinctly Southern, he says his favorite recipe is Grits ‘n Q.
“With a legendary brand like Corky’s, you’re not going to just put anything in there, you want it to be the best,” he said. “There’s not a recipe in there that I wouldn’t serve at my own house.”