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VOL. 132 | NO. 108 | Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Barbecue Restaurant Scene Heats Up in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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Employees prepare dishes at King Jerry Lawler’s Memphis BBQ Company, part of a wave of new barbecue restaurant openings, expansions and changes in recent weeks. (Daniel Scruggs)

Memphis has enjoyed a bumper crop of barbecue restaurant news in recent weeks, from tweaks to some business’ existing locations and plans by others to expand. And that trend isn’t letting up anytime soon.

King Jerry Lawler’s Memphis BBQ Company, one of the newer such brands in the city, opened its Cordova-area location earlier this year. Its menu includes items like briskets and barbecue nachos, as well as a handful of championship rubs, all served up in a setting that’s decked out with vintage Lawler photos and Memphis wrestling playbills.

And the owners behind the concept – Jimmy Silvia and Benton Smith, in collaboration with Lawler – have launched the offering of franchise opportunities for the concept.

“We just finished all of our legal documentation that allows us to franchise, and we’re now beginning the process of trying to find the right people for our market,” said Smith, the company’s chief operating officer and director of franchise development. “We’ve just begun our search – mostly looking in a 200-mile radius – to find franchise partners. It’s Memphis over to west of Nashville and Little Rock, Jonesboro, Jackson, Tupelo, North Mississippi. That’s the general area we’re looking at right now. We want to grow smart, so we want to stay as close as possible to our backyard, initially.”

The growth plans come at a time when institutions from The Germantown Commissary to Central BBQ are likewise expanding.

The longtime Germantown eatery, for example, is expanding to Poplar Avenue and Houston Levee Road. Then there’s Central BBQ, which hit the 15-year mark in April and is working with Kemmons Wilson Cos. on an expansion of the brand that will see the chain open its first locations outside of Memphis.

Central BBQ co-founder Craig Blondis said the idea of growing the company beyond Memphis is exciting.

Memphis wrestling icon Jerry Lawler’s new Cordova-area barbecue restaurant opened earlier this year and is now looking for franchise partners. (Daniel Scruggs)

“We know (Kemmons Wilson Cos.) will bring resources and operational expertise to position ourselves for even greater success in the future,” he said.

Corky’s, at the same time, has embarked on series of design tweaks to its area restaurants. Co-owner Barry Pelts said the company will likely invest some $300,000 by the time renovations to Corky’s Cordova, Collierville and Olive Branch locations are finished.

Smith said launching the Lawler’s concept in the first place – as well as pursuing its current franchise ambitions – came about because barbecue is so intrinsic to the Memphis culinary and cultural experience.

“Jerry’s thing is that there’s two things about Memphis pretty much everybody will agree on,” Smith said. “We’re known for wrestling and our barbecue. He said, ‘I’ve dominated wrestling for 40 years, and it’s time to take on the barbecue industry.’ So that’s kind of how this got started.”

The current location, at 465 N. Germantown Parkway, employs around 15 people and is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. At 2,100 square feet, it’s also a bit larger than what the company’s typical location is going to be, which is around 1,800 square feet.

“We feel like we got lucky with this location,” Smith said. “It was a good piece of real estate and a good, central location where we can train future franchisees. Our focus now is finding a partner in the Mid-South or multiple partners to develop our market.”

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 56 437 16,061
MORTGAGES 76 508 18,556
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 8 56 2,461
BUILDING PERMITS 241 876 33,390
BANKRUPTCIES 64 301 10,314
BUSINESS LICENSES 15 125 5,303
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 17 125 6,273
MARRIAGE LICENSES 19 98 3,511