Cover Story 4
The sausage served at Southside's two restaurants is available at a growing number of retail outlets, including HEB stores in Texas and Walmart.
 
In the early days, Bracewell considered the family business to be a butcher shop that sold barbecue on the side. When his grandfather became involved in 1968, the locally popular sausage became regionally popular and that spawned distribution to a wider swath of customers. “That’s when we became more of a sausage business,” he says.
“Nowadays, on the retail side I tell people we used to be a meat market that sold barbecue on the side. Now I tell them we’re a barbecue joint that sells fresh meat on the side and we’ve continued to grow our distribution business of sausage.
“For us, even in the restaurant, it’s all about sausage,” Bracewell says. “We’re proud of our brisket, ribs and everything else we serve but to us sausage is center of the plate.”

One of the company’s signature t-shirts reads: “We’ve got sausage and things that go good with sausage.”

“When you’re in central Texas and you say ‘sausage,’ it means beef sausage,” he says.

Maintaining tradition

As for the Southside recipe, Bracewell says simple is the secret ingredient. “We just say it’s a Texas barbecue sausage,” he says. “It’s not very highly engineered, made fresh daily and we smoke it the same day or the next day in the restaurant.” With two locations in the region, he says the top-selling menu item is easily sausage. “About 50 cents of every dollar we sell is sausage.”

Today’s retail offerings have flip-flopped from the days when Bracewell first joined, with over 95 percent of products sold being smoked and less than 5 percent fresh. The shift reflects the changing buying patterns of today’s consumers as well as the popularity of Southside’s online offerings, which is made up almost entirely of fully cooked items and available through its website as well as through retail giant, Neiman Marcus and on Amazon. Manufacturing and order fulfillment and shipping is done in-house and Bracewell says it has become a viable part of the company’s business. Retail distribution has grown to Walmart stores in five states and central and north Texas-based HEB stores. Sysco distributes to foodservice customers that ship to destinations including Legoland in San Diego, MOJO BBQ restaurants in Florida and more restaurants up the East Coast. Accentuating shelf life with case-ready packaging helped facilitate the increased distribution.

In 2007, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary by rolling out five new flavors of sausage, including four that were either pork blends or all pork. Prior to that, “we had only sold one flavor and it was either fresh or smoked,” and all of it was beef. Diversifying meant adding some pork into the offerings, but Texans are all about the beef.

“We sell some pork sausage,” Bracewell says, “but the reality is we do business in Texas and in Texas people eat beef. Beef sausage is king around here.”