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#6 Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
A lot has changed at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit since Roland Dickey Jr.’s grandfather started the first restaurant 75 years ago and operated it for 26 years. “The dude would smoke three packs of cigarettes during the day, and then he’d go home and smoke two more,” recalls Dickey, CEO since 2011. “Back in those days they had a barbecue pit. You’d open the pit and all the smoke would go fooosh. He got more smoke than oxygen, but he made it to 69.” One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is passion for the food. “Be the best at barbecue is our motto, and that encompasses a whole lot of things,” he says. Dickey’s uncle and father took his grandfather’s single store and grew it into a chain, with stores sometimes as large as 5,000 square feet and adding many extras over the years. Dickey is a believer in Jim Collins’s “Good to Great” advice, and even before he rose to the CEO chair he began stripping away everything that wasn’t core, at first because the 2008 recession forced his hand, and later because he saw the effect that better unit economics had on his ability to sell franchises. “You can trim the fat all around your business,” he says, and they did—shrinking the model from an “old-school Texas barbecue cafeteria” to become “leaner and meaner.” Today’s stores are about 1,500 square feet, down from 2,000 on average but with all of that space taken from the kitchen, not the dining area.
Revenue grew 82 percent and unit counts rose 69 percent from 2012 to 2014, to $319 million and 484, respectively, and last year was strong as well. “Our mission is to serve great barbecue,” he declares, and anything else goes out the door. Sounds like a plan his grandfather would heartily endorse.