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VOL. 133 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 14, 2018

Corky’s BBQ Eyes Southeast Expansion Under New Partnership

By Michael Waddell

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More and more people across the Southeast will be getting the chance to enjoy Memphis-style barbecue thanks to a new partnership announced Friday between Corky’s BBQ and Dobbs Equity Partners LLC. The deal will help Corky’s to expand its corporate-owned brick-and-mortar footprint, with plans to open 15 additional stores over the next three years, as well as invest and expand the Corky’s food manufacturing and distribution operations.

“We’ve just been growing so many different directions, and we see so many opportunities out there,” said Corky’s co-president Barry Pelts. “We needed to bring in a strategic financial partner to help us take it to the next level. We consider ourselves entrepreneurs and restaurateurs, but where we don’t have the skill set, and we know it, is building a bigger team.”

Keeping the feeling of being a family owned business was important in the decision-making process.

Andy Woodman (from left), John Dobbs Jr. and Barry Pelts have announced a new partnership between Corky’s BBQ and Dobbs Equity Partners to accelerate growth of Corky’s BBQ and their family of brands. (Morris Marketing Group)

“The Dobbs family is a great Memphis family that cares about the city and the family values that we’re going after,” said Pelts. “If we weren’t looking to grow, we wouldn’t have needed to bring in a partner. We really want to grow this into being the leading Memphis-style barbecue across the entire Southeast.”

DEP was involved in the restaurant business as far back as the 1950s with a chain of Dobbs Houses across the South. That venture led to an entry in the airline food industry with Dobbs House International.

“We have a lot of people who still remember with fondness the years we were in the restaurant business, so we’ve been looking for ways to get back in,” said DEP CEO John Dobbs, Jr. “We think Corky’s are the market leaders for their industry, but for a variety of reasons they have not been able to expand it to its full potential.”

In addition to providing financial backing, DEP will offer strategic planning services. The firm makes private equity investments in existing and start-up operating companies and typically holds investments for decades instead of focusing on the short term.

Don Pelts (Barry’s father) started Corky’s in 1984 with just one restaurant on Poplar Avenue in East Memphis.

“It took us 15 years to open a second location,” said Pelts. “We’re very methodical in how we do things. We’re very averse to risk.”

Five years ago, they tested building a prototype from the ground up in DeSoto County for their fourth location.

“It’s been a huge success, a home run for us,” said Pelts. “Our long-term growth is going to be in company-owned stores.”

Of the 15 new restaurants in the planning stages, all will be outside of Memphis. Cities being targeted are Nashville; Jackson, Mississippi; Louisville; Chattanooga and Birmingham. The company is looking at new construction as well as retrofitting opportunities.

“We’re immediately looking for locations,” said Dobbs. “We might do three or four this year, four or five next year, and then maybe get to the point where we’re doing 10 or 20 or even 30 per year.”

While Southeast expansion is at the forefront, other cities could get some Corky’s love in the somewhat near future.

“There could be outliers. We might put one in Chicago, for instance,” said Dobbs. “The main thing that we’re going to do is have fun because it’s a fun business. When people get Corky’s, they’re celebrating something and that’s what makes it so special.”

In recent years Corky’s has also grown its local manufacturing and fulfillment facility, as well as its retail grocery business. The Corky’s umbrella consists of the Corky’s Food Manufacturing, Prime Time Strategic Partners and Simply Delicious Catering. Corky’s Food Manufacturing manufactures and distributes Corky’s retail food products and El Terrifico Cheese Dip.

“We’re looking to add more freezer space, more equipment, more smokers – we just keep outgrowing our production capabilities,” said Pelts. “We’re actually running production seven days per week.”

Prime Time Strategic Partners is a regular contributor to the QVC shopping network, and Simply Delicious Catering offers full-service concierge catering.

The new partnership will also include franchising. Corky’s recently signed an agreement to open another 15 to 20 franchised stores over the next several years in Texas, which will add to its current list of four franchise locations outside of Memphis (in Little Rock, Arkansas and Brentwood, Tennessee).

In a similar move last year, Central BBQ announced a partnership with Kemmons Wilson Cos. focused on growing its brand in Memphis and across the South.

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