Pulling Our Chain


There has been much speculation on the fast casual market, especially in states like Washington where eating local has become a fascination.  The headline in a recent Forbes article reads “Behind Seattle's Franchise Battle: Why Patrons Don't Care If Chains Die.”   Well, shucks Forbes, I believe there are many people that would strongly disagree with that point.

I wouldn't call Washington the center of the universe when it comes to national tastes but I am willing to take the bait and entertain the thought that as the shop/eat local movement spreads chains need to evolve.

“When is a franchise not a small business? When it’s in Seattle.”

When a local owner opens a franchised location (even in Seattle) they consider it an entrepreneurial endeavor.  Many invest savings they have accumulated over a lifetime.  They don’t take it lightly and neither do we.  When my grandfather opened the first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in 1941 it was a business risk and as we open our 500th location, in Yakima, Washington, there is the same risk/reward proposition.

Our owners buy a system that has been perfected over time.  We provide training, marketing and operations support but it’s still a small business. These local owners invest time, money and resources in the same entrepreneurial spirit as my grandfather did.  A franchise is a small business just ask your local Dickeys Barbecue Pit owner who goes to bed late after loading the smoke pit and gets up early to make sure they serve fresh products to the guests they have come to know so well.

Seattle took it a step further with the the $15-an-hour minimum wage the city passed last summer. They are counting franchises as bigger businesses that have to pay the higher rate sooner, because of their connection to a national franchisor. It's not fair and it's not evenly applied.  I believe it should be struck down by the courts.

“ franchises face a growing crisis. Consumers increasingly tolerate them, but don’t feel deeply attached to them”

We are fortunate to celebrate birthdays, holidays and graduations with guests.  They send us notes, emails, tweets and hand drawn pictures telling us about their experiences.  We once catered a wedding for a couple who met at a local Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and wanted Dickey’s to cater their wedding as a tribute.  I would say we are more than being tolerated.

Guests feel passionate about the foods they eat – I’ll agree with that point.  Barbecue is a food that brings out an even greater sense of passion and connection with guests.  Sometimes just the smell can send you back to the time your grandmother took you to lunch 10 years ago.  Does it have to be local to be special?

We still take great pains to source the freshest meats and track them from the field to the block insuring the highest quality.  We’re dedicated to the craftsmanship of authentic slow smoked barbecue served by local owners in 43 states across the country.  Many guests find this comforting knowing that they can grab a great meal in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and the same great quality food in Clovis, California.  We’re consistently good and there is merit in that accomplishment.

Seattle is a town suspicious of foreign imports (foreign being beyond Washington State borders)

Well that’s too bad Seattle.  You’re missing out on some great meals from really excellent brands.  While your friends in other cities are raving about an innovative new burger or ethnic creation, I hope you’ll be satisfied sticking to your guns.  Since when is different a bad thing?  

We’ve been thrilled with the reception we’ve gotten in markets new to the Texas barbecue experience.  And, here in Texas, I’ve been wow’ed by brands not native to my town.  I’m a foodie like many people, which means I’m opened minded and willing to try new things.  I’m relieved to see many Americans feel the same way which is how we continue to grow and offer opportunities to new business owners. 

I think Forbes would be surprised to know that Washington is one of our fastest growing markets. I’m not sure all hipsters from Seattle would agree with Forbes.  I do know we’re dedicated to serving consistently great food and have been happy to meet the locals.  

What do you think?

What Do You Think.jpg

I follow many business leaders in the retail and hospitality industry but it’s hard to find a better success story than Bill Marriot.  As the former CEO and executive chairman of Marriot International, his management style is legend.  It could be said that he learned about success from his father J.W. Marriott who turned his local root beer shop into a hotel chain in the 1950’s. Bill was charged with taking this American success story to the next level which is no easy task.  Today Marriot International manages more than 3,900 properties in 72 countries and employs around 325,000 people around the globe.

In his management blog, Marriot tells the story of meeting former President Dwight Eisenhower and learning the power of the question “What do you think?” Those words “What do you think?” are really a key to good leadership. They give valued team members, guests and vendors an opportunity to express their opinion.  They tell people that you really care about their insights and are willing to hear their perspectives.  In my industry this is key. I encourage our leadership team to share their opinions because great leaders listen first and evaluate before making decisions. 

I’m also passionate about listening to our guests. While we can’t be all things to all people, we can ask that very important question and consider all feedback. We have a very effective guest response program called “Talk to Dickeys” that we look at closely on a daily basis.  We use this as a scorecard on how well we are serving our guests. We also monitor review sites and actively engage with guests on all social channels.  Listening to what our guests think is imperative to staying relevant and we take it very seriously.

Bill Marriott joined the Marriott Corporation in 1956, became president in November 1964, and CEO in 1972. In his many years at the helm of his family’s company he came up with 12 rules for success. They still apply today and may be even more important than ever.

12 Rules for Success from Bill Marriot

1.      Challenge your team to do better and do it often.

2.      Take good care of your associates, and they’ll take good care of your customers, and they’ll come back.

3.      Celebrate your peoples’ success, not your own.

4.      Know what you’re good at and keep improving.

5.      Do it and do it now. Err on the side of taking action.

6.      Communicate by listening to your customers, associates and competitors.

7.      See and be seen. Get out of your office, walk the talk, make yourself visible and accessible.

8.      Success is always in the details.

9.      It’s more important to hire people with the right qualities than with specific experience.

10.  Customer needs may vary, but their bias for quality never does.

11.  Always hire people who are smarter than you are.

12.  View every problem as an opportunity to grow.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit started as a small barbecue joint with a limited menu but lots of personality behind the block.  My grandfather was skilled at engaging guests and never shy about asking for feedback on his food.  We take the same approach with all parts of our business.  If you’re not asking questions then you’re not learning anything. Bill Marriott’s 12 rules are definitely a playbook for success and his favorite question has become my favorite as well.  That’s just my opinion…but “what do you think?

Family Ties

It’s always an honor to be recognized in your industry. The restaurant space is particularly competitive, but filled with successful business leaders who I respect. Last year, Restaurant Business launched their annual Power 20 list where I was recognized with an impressive list of leading restaurant executives. The 2014 list focused on executives in the restaurant industry whose business acumen allowed them to overcome the challenges we all face in the restaurant business.  It was an honor to be included in such a notable list.

This year, the Restaurant Business Power 20 focused on family dynasties leading restaurants into a new generation.  The list of families pushing the envelope in the restaurant space was impressive and I’m again honored to be included.  Families such as the Brennans, the Pappases, the Mortons and the Cathys were all recognized for going above and beyond to push their brands further and I’m thrilled to have my family in the ranks amongst these families. 

The focus of this year’s list on brand evolution is particularly interesting to me. My family is always looking for new ways to push Dickey’s Barbecue Pit to the next level. We understand the importance of evolving for the next generation of guests while we also know it’s essential for us to stay true to our roots.  That is the real balance.  But, as we move to the next phase of growth, we’re looking at ways we can continue to impress our guests, while looking at modern improvements in our stores. 

We are looking towards our 75th anniversary and not stopping the momentum. We just launched Dickey’s first charity, Barbecue, Boots & Badges which is led by my mother. My father still travels extensively meeting with our local owners across the country.  We’re starting to eye international expansion as well.  That will be exciting for our company and my family. We will also be unveiling a new store prototype with an open kitchen and leading edge amenities.

As Dickey’s continues to evolve, I’m sure looking forward to watching where this list of families takes their brands. As for the Dickey family, we will keep the serving the authentic barbecue my grandfather started this business with in 1941 and growing our family business one new guest at a time.

Feeding Our Flywheel

One of my favorite business management books is Good to Great by Jim Collins.  All of our corporate employees are required to read it and then read it again every year.  The reason behind my passion for the principles in this book is simple; they work. One of the concepts that hits home is the Flywheel Effect. Its genius lies in the simplicity of the theory.

A flywheel is a substantial wheel that requires enormous power to move. You can push and push with very little movement. Continue pushing and the flywheel manufactures force and in the long run it begins to turn on its own.  Basically, it starts feeding its own results and the momentum only continues to build.  Collins points to the turning as the instant at which an organization goes from great to awesome or when things really get rolling.

The flywheel idea gives clarity to classic business concepts that lead the way to great results and continued momentum.  In Good to Great, Collins dives deep to detail the flywheel effect in companies as varied as Abbott Labs, Kroger and Wells Fargo.  The concept applies to any industry, even the barbecue business.  It’s all about building force, energy, momentum….passion!

New ideas are great and we are constantly innovating but sometimes a back to basics mindset creates results that build. My flywheel is Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.  My job is to push results as fast as possible while maintaining authenticity.  In today’s fast casual industry it’s not the largest companies that are successful but the fastest and most nimble. At Dickey’s, we’ve put our shoulders to the flywheel moving forward gradually but consistently picking up speed.

This continued result has built the success of our brand. It started with perfecting our recipes and guest experience in local stores, growth throughout Texas and continues daily through franchise expansion across the country.  My commitment is to improve something about our brand every single day. We build new locations, wow new guests and find efficiencies that all move our flywheel. 


The Secret Sauce

I recently read an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about innovation. The gist of the article was about how many businesses fall into the trap of growing but neglecting techniques and systems that generate new ideas. While innovation isn’t a term you would normally associate with a 74-year-old barbecue chain, it’s actually a core focus of our company and the bread and butter of any successful business.  

My family has set out to reinvent the world of barbecue and this requires us to recreate, reimagine and disrupt our industry on a daily basis. Launching a regional restaurant brand on to the national stage was a bold move when we first started franchising in 1994. It took the collaborative creativity of skilled entrepreneurial leaders and passion.  We didn’t consider ourselves trailblazers but as it turns out we were doing something that had never been done.

We continue pioneering in our industry and also within our own brand.  Although we have deep roots and traditions, we are always looking for groundbreaking ideas from outside our four walls. We scour the retail and restaurant industries for best practices and our core team is comprised of avid readers; anything from business books to convention papers.  We still focus on core values and traditions – really sticking to what made us great in the first place but we refuse to get set in our ways. There’s a big difference between honoring tradition and stagnation.

Creating new ideas and generating disruptive thought processes are keys to growth and modernization.   This includes everything from the music in our restaurants to Dickey’s craft paper packaging to our web presence or even a logo update; it lets our guests know we’re a modern company.  Staying fresh also means being on the fast track of new technology.  Our guests are busy people and expect an efficient experience which includes online ordering and text capabilities.  We’re bringing a level of sophistication to the barbecue industry through big data, allocation of resources and predictive analytics that will allow us to serve our guests with state-of-the-art precision.

In today’s fast paced, quick serve environment, creating a relevant brand takes strategy and innovation. Guests are demanding more from their brand experiences than ever before.  Our commitment to our guests goes beyond authentic, quality, slow smoked barbecue.  We are committed to innovation, the secret sauce to a best-in class guest experience.

Q&A with Roland Dickey Jr.

Why do you think barbecue is so popular across the country?


Everyone loves barbecue.  There’s just something about sharing a plate of ribs and a cold one that brings people together.  Barbecue is comfort food that connects with guests’ back to basics mindset.

People may be busier these days but they still want wholesome, quality foods that they feel good about serving to their families.

So, are you still planning on global barbecue domination?

You know it! Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is taking barbecue mainstream and doing something that no other brand has done before – taking barbecue to a national audience and eventually international.   We’re taking the southern tradition of barbecue across the country and guests love it. And, we’re winning over hearts, minds and taste buds from California to Virginia and most places in between.    We opened over 100 new Dickey’s Barbecue Pit locations in 2014 and plan on doing the same in 2015 – bring us much closer to barbecue global domination.

How do you keep a 74 year old brand original?

We may be a 74-year-old brand, but we definitely don’t act like it.  Preserving the authenticity and history of our brand is very important to us. But, we put that same emphasis on innovation. We’re always looking for better ways to serve our guests. We have many new ideas to add to our already rich history such as our new restaurant designs coming soon, online and text ordering options, catering hotline, sustainable packaging and healthy menu items. 

Why do you think it’s so important that Dickey’s is still family-owned?

My grandfather started Dickey's Barbecue Pit in 1941.  He was a true Texas character blessed with the gift of gab and the love of real slow-smoked barbecue. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit has always been a true family operation with my grandfather working the block and Miss Ollie Dickey serving sandwiches.

But, my dad and uncle really put us on the map. My dad started our catering business by pounding the pavement.  He loved meeting new people and introducing them to great barbecue. That same entrepreneurial spirit is still at work in all of our restaurants today. I’m so proud to be the third generation fortunate to be part of such a great concept and a true American success story.  My family built Dickey's Barbecue Pit the old fashion way, by winning one guest at a time and I’m so proud of that legacy.  I hope guests can feel that passion!

Behind the Smoke

Behind the Smoke

 When Zac Brown sings “I like my chicken fried, cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right and the radio up,” he’s just nailed the heart of the guest experience.  Creating a successful brand is about knowing what makes your customers tick and being able to create that experience every time – sometimes before they even know they want it.


Guests crave more than delicious food from their favorite brand – they want a complete experience. One that includes all senses and gets it right every time.  From the rustic design of our restaurants, the wood fire smell from the smoker to the tunes playing in the background – it all sets the vibe for our guest’s experience. We know it’s the details that make guests feel good about dining with us and it’s also what will keep them coming back. 

Our guests relate to our hometown roots. After all, our humble beginnings in 1941 were as a beer joint with a little pit-smoked barbecue in the back.  What we do right hasn’t changed and never will.  Dickey’s Barbecue is recognized around the country, but you walk into our stores it feels like a local barbecue joint. We still pride ourselves on authentic, down-home food, served with genuine southern pride.  We give guests that local joint vibe with all the modern capabilities of a national restaurant chain.

We also make sure we serve our guests consistently.  We have almost 500 locations across the country, but the experience you have in Minot, North Dakota is the same you have in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  At Dickey’s, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. But, we do take pride in the art of great barbecue. Although we’re a 74-year old chain, we definitely don’t want to look like it.  Kicking the tires on our brand is essential to staying relevant. Maintaining a streamlined image, whether it’s on Dickey’s craft paper packaging or our web presence or even a logo update; lets our guests know we pay attention to the details. 

In today’s fast paced, quick serve environment, creating a relevant brand takes strategy, innovation and a vibe. Guests are the bread and butter of any business, but especially in the fast casual industry.  Dickey’s has become so much more than just a recognizable national brand.  We hold memories for many people and their families.  They spend their birthdays and graduations with us and let us into their homes for parties and important family events.  We take their loyalty seriously.  Our Big Yellow Cup Club is an opportunity to thank our loyal customers and give them a sneak peek at new menu items and special offers. 

 Some people consider Dickey’s Barbecue an industry anomaly, expanding nationwide on a playing field normally reserved for mom and pop restaurants or regional players. Our growth shows we’re a recognized brand with a national reach –international reach eventually.  Dickey’s brand evolution is the product of a deliberate strategy to take the regional vibe of Texas barbecue to a national audience.  We’re making ourselves known one Big Yellow Cup at a time and our success shows in the many satisfied guests we’ve fed along the way.