July 12, 2018

Central BBQ goes to Nashville, changes signs

Memphis Commercial Appeal

July 12, 2018

The fruits of a new partnership announced more than a year ago involving Central BBQ are now sprouting.

The owners announced the long-awaited fourth Central BBQ — at 6201 Poplar where LYFE Kitchen once operated — should open by early August.

The other two developments: A fifth Central BBQ should open in Nashville by early next year, and the Memphis-based restaurant chain’s signs, graphics and colors have been changed.

The old sign featuring a smiling pig against an oval, yellow background has been replaced by a pig-less blue sign that simply states “Central BBQ” in large, white letters, surrounded by the smaller “Memphis Style que since ’02.”

“A lot of the colors in the stores are blue and white, and we’re all Tiger fans,” Webb Wilson said, referring to the University of Memphis team colors.

The partners said “as we’re growing outside Memphis, let’s maybe use the colors already in the restaurant as part of the logo and have it be the Tiger colors,” said Wilson, a principal with Kemmons Wilson Companies.

Wilson this week described the new graphics and other developments about 15 months after Kemmons Wilson Companies unveiled its partnership with Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp. They opened the first Central BBQ at 2249 Central in Midtown 16 years ago.

Blondis and Sapp will continue to own the chain’s first three restaurants and become a minority partner for the future Central BBQ restaurants funded by Kemmons Wilson Companies. The venture will count on Blondis and Sapp to maintain the quality and consistency of the food and service as expansion occurs, Wilson said.

“They are in the weeds,” Wilson said. “I’m not smoking the shoulders. Craig is in there cracking the whip and telling them, ‘This is how we’ll do it’ … It’s a good partnership.”

The fifth Central BBQ will be in Nashville at 408 11th Avenue North, which is in Boyle Development Company’s Capitol View development.

The chain owners like that spot because it is just off Charlotte Avenue, a major road into the center of Nashville, and because it is close to big employment headquarters like HCA Healthcare and LifeWay Christian Resources, Wilson said.

“It’s got 3,000 to 4,000 people there every day,” he said. “… We like the green space in terms of not having another barbecue restaurant there.”

Memphis barbecue has long spread across the nation and world through internet sales and shipments from restaurants like the Rendezvous and Corky’s. But now brands are leveraging the Memphis reputation for barbecue by placing restaurants beyond Memphis.

Just last month, owners of Memphis-based Corky’s BBQ announced plans to spread the Corky’s brand with 15 new restaurants across the Southeast and eventually build more around the nation.

Similar to Central BBQ, Corky’s got a boost for its expansion plans by taking on a partner, Memphis-based Dobbs Equity Partners LLC.

“Stage 1 is to own the Southeast, and Stage 2 is to conquer the nation,” Corky’s co-owner Barry Pelts said a month ago.

John H. Dobbs Jr., executive officer of Dobbs Equity Partners, has called Corky’s “a market leader in the U.S. for barbecue.”

The Corky’s-Dobbs partnership also aims to expand Corky’s existing food manufacturing and distribution operations.

Corky’s operates four restaurants in Memphis plus two venues inside Memphis Kroger groceries, and has four franchise restaurants outside Memphis. In addition, Corky’s recently struck a deal to open 15 to 20 franchised restaurants over the next few years in Houston and Dallas.

Central BBQ still plans to take its time expanding.

“We said at the outset quality is our No. 1 focus,” Wilson said Thursday. “Growth for growth’s sake isn’t really the goal … Our view is to see how Nashville goes and maybe have another one toward the end of 2019 we can find and get open. And be pretty thoughtful and slow and meticulous, and grow,” Wilson said.

Kemmons Wilson Companies was founded in 1948 by the man who started Holiday Inn. Four years ago, the late Kemmons Wilson’s grandsons — Webb Wilson, Spence Wilson Jr., Kemmons Wilson III and McLean Wilson — were named principal leaders.

Kemmons Wilson Companies also has businesses in aviation, financial services, hotels, insurance, real estate and time-share housing.