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Restaurants: Interstate Bar-B-Q

The granddaddy of Memphis barbecue has to be Jim Neely. Over the years, numerous awards – local and national – have attested to the quality of his BBQ and his business operation.
 
 Carlee McCullough

The granddaddy of Memphis barbecue has to be Jim Neely. Over the years, numerous awards – local and national – have attested to the quality of his BBQ and his business operation.

Neely started the restaurant to provide employment for one of his sons who had been injured in the military. Neely also wanted to generate supplemental income once he retired from the insurance business.  Missions accomplished.

Specially designed pits allow him to cook barbecue with indirect heat and handle as many as 500 slabs at once.  His menu consists of the staples of pork and beef ribs, chicken, smoked turkey, chopped/sliced pork and beef, bologna, smoked sausages, hot dogs, cole slaw, baked beans, pecan pie, sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, and sock-it-to-me cake.  

In addition, Neely has placed BBQ where others would never think of it going, such as nachos, spaghetti and salad. The restaurant seats approximately 275, with dozens of family members involved in delivering quality service

Carlee McCullough: What attracted you to the restaurant business?

Jim Neely: We considered there to be a lack of great Bar-B-Q in Memphis in 1979.  So we decided to get into the business.

C.M.: Where did you open your first location?

J.N.: Our store at 2265 South Third Street was our first store.  We purchased a grocery store and added the restaurant.  We opened in 1979 and we are still here today.

C.M. Prior to the restaurant business you were well known for insurance. You had offices in Nashville, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baton Rouge. How was the transition experience?

J.N.: After years in the insurance business, it was a challenge to enter the restaurant business.

C.M.: What is the secret to running a successful restaurant?

J.N.: You must be there everyday and pay attention to every detail, no matter how large or small.  Not being on top of small details can put you out of business. The other reason we have succeeded is because of our quality and customer satisfaction and trying to be just a little bit better. I couldn’t have made it without my wife or my customers. That’s why I want to say, ‘Thanks Memphis.’

C.M.: Most small businesses have experienced a shortage of funding.  Have you experienced that and how did you remedy the problem?

J.N.: We were very fortunate in that we planned well.  We started with enough funds and never needed credit.

C.M.: You are also in the airport and we hear that business is dynamic there.  What is the difference between a restaurant in the airport and one on the streets?

J.N.: For the most part there is no difference except for the Federal Aviation Administration  (FAA) restrictions and the high cost of doing business at the airport.

C.M.: Your children seem to have followed in your footsteps in the barbecue business.  Did you encourage them to join the family business early on?

J.N.: No, I didn’t encourage them to join the business.  But after college they just joined in and they have worked from day one.

C.M.: What advice or assistance did you provide the second generation when they opened their stores?

J.N.: I have my nephews, Pat and Tony, that have a store called Neely’s Bar-B-Q on Madison.  In 1988, I helped to design their first store and the Bar-B-Q pits.  I also oversaw the first cooking.  Now they are doing well with their new food show.

C.M.: If you could change anything that you have done in the past, what would it be?

J.N.: I would not change a thing.  I have always pre-calculated things I did.  Planning is very important in the success of a restaurant.

C.M.: What advice would you provide others interested in the food service business?

J.N.: You have to learn your product well before entering the restaurant business.

C.M.:  Do you have any closing words of wisdom?

J.N.: Every day that you wake up, prepare to be the very best at what you do and accept nothing else.

(Please send your questions to Carlee McCullough, Esq., Contract Compliance Officer, City of Memphis-Office of Contract Compliance, 125 N. Main St., Suite 546, Memphis, TN 38103 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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