Smokin’ Success

by Steve Kay
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Dickey's has trimmed its menu down to six meats and eight vegetable options. 

Some Things Never Change

The brand thus has grown beyond Travis Dickey’s wildest imagination. But some things never change. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit still slow smokes all of its meats on-site just the way Travis did in 1941. Its menu has expanded to include beef brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis style ribs, barbecue honey ham, Polish sausage, spicy cheddar sausage, smoked turkey and marinated chicken, with an extensive array of home-style sides from jalapeño beans to macaroni and cheese. Buttery rolls are served with every meal along with complimentary ice cream. And just like always, kids eat free on Sunday, the company says.

Dickey’s philosophy and key to its success appears to be that it has never opted for shortcuts when it comes to smoking its meats, its recipes and its Southern hospitality. But it has tinkered a lot with its offerings over the years. At one time, it offered 12 different meats and 20 vegetables. Some were its core items but others weren’t, Roland Jr. says.

“People at that time wanted a generalized restaurant to go to. Now they want the opposite.” So Dickey’s trimmed its menu to six meats and eight vegetables. But these items can make 28 different entrees. “We take the core items and serve them in a variety of ways. But we make sure the quality is always there.”

Dickey’s has also moved to satisfy consumers’ changing needs and desires. “It’s not about calories anymore but the quality of the food,” Roland Jr. says. That’s why Dickey’s took all nitrites and nitrates out of its meat items. It will start moving to using meat from animals never administered antibiotics within the next year. Chicken will be first in this regard, then pork, followed by pork ribs and sausages.

“The very last will be our briskets (of which Dickey’s buys 40 million lbs. per year),” Roland Jr. says. “They will be the most difficult to source because of the company’s velocity of growth and the lack of supply. Besides, the prices are outrageous for what is currently available.”

Briskets account for more than half of the 75 million lbs. of meat that Dickey’s procures annually. Other items are St. Louis-style spare ribs, pork butts, chicken breasts, and beef and pork sausages.

Regarding its procurement strategy, Dickey’s works very closely with each of its vendors, whether they are center-of-the-plate or sides suppliers, Roland Jr. says. It used to have 35 vendors but has cut that number in half. Having fewer vendors means better relationships, he says. Roland Jr. has discussions with vendors to develop new products.

With brisket as its biggest meat buy, Dickey’s buys both on the spot market and takes a longer pricing position, based on what the market is doing, Roland Jr. says. In mid-May, Dickey’s was buying briskets for $2.23 per lb. The chain has a monthly newsletter that goes to franchisees, to keep them aware of prices paid by competitors, he says.

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