Kansas City, Memphis and the Carolinas all like to stake their claim as the center of American barbecue, but no one does it quite like Austin, Texas. Today’s most famous barbecue restaurant, Franklin Barbecue, is located in Austin. Kerlin BBQ, the 1 ranked restaurant in my recently released book – The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America – is about a mile away from Franklin.
Austin’s barbecue scene has grown tremendously over the last decade. Food television has consistently shined the spotlight on a few famous restaurants in Austin, but that isn’t who Opportunity Lives is profiling today. Instead, we are telling the story of a mom-and-pop shop that has been serving the Austin community for over 20 years – before the new wave of Austin barbecue joints.
Branch BBQ Owner Chris Carby
“I’ve been in food service most of my life,” Owner Chris Carby told Opportunity Lives. “I managed a steakhouse and worked for a large food distributor before finally opening my own place, Branch BBQ, in my suburban neighborhood between Austin and Round Rock in 1994.”
Chris has his hand in everything at the restaurant and has personally cooked over 50,000 briskets. Years and years over the smoker have provided the kind of training that no culinary school or celebrity chef could teach.
During my visit to Franklin Barbecue across town, nearly everyone in line was a tourist. Few locals can afford to dedicate the required 5 hours to purchase a plate of Aaron Franklin’s celebrated brisket. Branch’s clientele and business is different. They cater local school events, church dinners and family parties. Branch BBQ feeds many more firefighters, policemen and neighbors than tourists.
Just as Branch BBQ relies on its neighborhood and community for business, Chris gives back in a number of ways. He is the announcer at local high school football games and track events. He hires local kids and teaches them that hard, honest work can lead to a successful business. He even helped open a barbecue restaurant in Costa Rica.
“In 2007”, Chris continued, “my wife Catherine and I traveled to Central America to help a friend open Costa Rica’s first and only Texas-style barbecue restaurant. It was so much fun to take Texas’ beloved flavors to Costa Rica and see a new restaurant born which created new jobs.”
Photo: Branch BBQ
While some restaurants constantly tinker with their food to keep up with the latest fads in barbecue, Chris sticks to what he knows and has practiced for over 20 years.
“There are no secrets, shortcuts or gimmicks with our food or business,” said Chris. “We make traditional Texas-style barbecue, homemade sides and tasty desserts just like our grandparents used to eat. I take great pride in the way we treat our customers. We wouldn’t have been here for 20 years if we didn’t treat people the way we want to be treated.”
The first half of 2015 has been Branch BBQ’s busiest to date. While you don’t see celebrity sightings and TV crews at Branch BBQ, there is something to be said for seeing the grass-stained soccer team enjoying a meal after a game. Branch BBQ is the kind of neighborhood business and success story we all wish we had more of in our communities.
Johnny Fugitt is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. His new book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America, chronicles his journey to 365 barbecue restaurants across 48 states in a year. You can follow him on Twitter @barbecueranking.