Lessons in Dreaming Big from Big D Barbecue
Jordy’s story is the stuff of the American Dream. He never lost sight of his vision, enlisted the help of his family and friends, literally put his entire savings into barbecue, and luckily it’s all paid off. Jordy Jordan, owner of Big D Barbecue, just outside of downtown Dallas, Texas, quit his nine-to-five to open a spot featuring organic barbecue and craft beer. Big D Barbecue did eight-thousand dollars in sales in their first month. Two years later, they are projecting over a million in sales.
I was fortunate enough to talk with Jordy about how he grew his small, off-the-beaten-path restaurant into a profitable, beloved destination for delicious barbecue.
So why barbecue?
“I’ve grown up doing it,” Jordy explained. He spent half of his time in Kilgore, Texas, with his family, riding horses, “and my uncle had a big trailer barbecue pit that he would always bring with him and we’d have a huge cookout. It continually progressed into a huge passion of mine. And now we’re here.”
The term ‘startup’ is the buzzword of the moment, and in a way, you could say that all small businesses are startups. Big D Barbecue started like many startups do, in Jordy’s kitchen during a snowstorm. Jordy clarified, “We’re in Texas, so we actually got iced in.” He and his neighbor “sat in my kitchen for about 15 hours, drinking beer, and came up with barbecue sauce. Since that original recipe, I’ve changed it, but the base is still the same.”
The idea grew from there, in the kitchen during a storm. With the help of his family Jordy started catering events and doing festivals. He was still working in marketing for a brokerage firm at this point, but took a leap of faith and signed a lease on a restaurant space. He broke the news to his wife while she was at a marketing conference saying, “Hey, we’re going into the restaurant business. Or at least I am.”
Shortly thereafter, Jordy decided to quit his job in insurance and “spent every hour” he could getting the restaurant ready to open. He said that he and his family did all of the remodeling of the space on their own. “I scraped together everything I could to get it open,” Jordy recalled. Sometimes, when I hear stories like Jordy’s, I think about how crazy it must feel to just take a risk and make a huge life change. Of course, it must also feel pretty awesome.
“Well, you know, you either believe in yourself or you don’t.”
Jordy expanded, “Five minutes of doubt in yourself can really screw up a big deal. So I never had doubt that I didn’t have the work ethic or that people wouldn’t come.” Most of us never make it past the point of that fear of failure.
When asked about the challenges he faced he said, “The biggest thing was time. And nothing happens overnight but I used every credit card that I had when we first started getting food.” Jordy explained that when you first start out, you are spending money daily to keep things going because you have to place orders for food, pay your employees, and vendors. Jordy went through his savings in the first three months just on rent. He said that if he could do it over again, he would have more money, of course.
“But, you know, at the end of the day, I had a dream and I believed in it. And I knew that if I put in the hard work and really focused on the freshness of the food and customer service, that everything else would work itself out. I guess you can say I kind of came to a crossroads in my career and I had to make a decision. So I made one.”
Time and money have, of course, impact most of our decisions. But Jordy reminded me that, as cliché as the saying is, money isn’t everything.
“The American dream isn’t going to be that you’ll go from poverty to being a billionaire. The American dream is to live out your passion and do what you want to do. It has nothing to do with money, in my opinion. It all has to do with what makes you happy.”
Wow, exactly. At this point in talking with Jordy, I began to realize that maybe he should have been a motivational speaker? Or maybe as his next career? Clearly the experience of taking on the project to open Big D Barbecue earned Jordy some wisdom, which he graciously imparted.
“I’ve never done anything alone,” Jordy went on. “Nobody has ever been successful because they were on their own. They’ve either had help from their family or mentors or some other leader in their life. And a lot of people get confused with the word help, as in financial help.” Jordy had lots of support from his friends and family and he is quick to say that he wouldn’t be successful without them.
When I asked Jordy about his inspiration for a barbecue spot, specifically, he again, recalled his family. “Yeah, well one thing that’s really stuck with me, and I don’t know why it stuck with me, but one day I was out with my Granddad and he saw an old building for sale. And it used to be an auto shop. And he said, ‘you know, I’d love to buy that building and put a barbecue place there.’” He wasn’t sure why his grandfather had this idea since he didn’t cook barbecue himself, but it always stuck with Jordy.
Food and family are so closely connected for all of us, so it makes sense that the inspiration for Jordy came from family gatherings and watching his mom, dad, aunts, and uncle cook. But also from a memory of his grandfather probably wistfully thinking about things he never got a chance to do. It’s a very human desire to want to keep your family tradition going through family recipes and traditions. Jordy said that he wants his customers to have that feeling at Big D Barbecue, “a little bit of remembrance, I guess, or nostalgia.” He added, “I just remember the family camaraderie, I guess you could say, that’s built around cooking.”
Like most successful restaurant owners, Jordy’s emphasis on creating a “feeling of togetherness” shows a true commitment to his customers, from the ingredients he uses, the hard work, to the feeling of community in his restaurant.
“As far as what’s next for Big D, you know, I really haven’t gotten there yet. We have not maxed out our potential here. And I really don’t think we ever will.” Spoken like a true entrepreneur.