A record-setting snowfall led to some of the hottest barbecue in Mansfield.
After a freak storm dumped more than 11 inches of white stuff on the Metroplex in February 2010, Ken “Jordy” Jordan and his neighbor got a little stir crazy trapped in their houses and trekked to the store for supplies - barbecue supplies. The two spent the next 30 hours perfecting the barbecue sauce that would become the mainstay of Big D Barbecue.
“We destroyed my kitchen,” Jordan admitted, before coming up with a tomato, molasses, apple cider vinegar mixture that the dog didn’t turn his nose up at.
In 2013, that sauce led Jordan, his father-in-law Gary Giddngs and buddy Sheriden “Tuna” Miller to open their first restaurant next to the tracks on Walnut Creek Drive, turning out real Texas barbecue.
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But it hasn’t been easy.
Jordan had managed restaurants, Miller had worked in food industry for years and Giddings had worked in the corporate world. None had ever owned a restaurant. In the spring of 2013, the property owner showed Jordan the restaurant space that had housed Napoli’s for years and then Villa Italiana, and Jordan signed the lease.
He and Giddings spent the next three months revamping the space, quit their jobs and opened the restaurant “on a shoestring budget” in July 2013, Giddings said.
The response was more of a slow burn than a flash fire, he admitted.
“In August, we had right around $8,000 in sales,” Giddings said, “but only had food and rent to pay. Jordy and I weren’t getting paid.”
But the fire had started to burn and kept building, picking up in 2014 and became a roaring fire this spring. The barbecue joint now smokes 250 pounds of meat per day -- brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken, sausage and pork -- more on the weekends and for popular Wednesday night trivia contests.
The men behind the smoke credit different reasons for their success.
Giddings says it’s the quality of the ‘cue.
“We’ve thrown away a lot of briskets, a lot of ribs,” he said. “We’ve closed when the product was not to our satisfaction. The expectations of our food quality are very high.
“You can tell by looking at a brisket if it’s too dry, there’s not enough smoke, too much smoke,” he said.
Miller says the secret is in the fire.
“Our smoker is less temperamental,” he said. “The wood is cured right. We use white oak and post oak.”
Jordan says it’s the meat, and how you serve it up.
“Anybody can take a piece of meat and throw it on the fire,” he said. “The quality of the meat makes all the difference and the care you take.”
Big D is serving more than barbecue, Jordan says.
“It isn’t just the food, it’s the experience,” he said. “If you go to a place with great food and crappy service, you won’t go back.”
Jordan says they know their clientele, too.
“We’re family-oriented,” he said. “We don’t want anybody to feel like they can’t be comfortable bringing their kids and their wives. Guys like barbecue. They’ll come no matter what. We try to appeal to the wives.”
Mansfield diners let them know they were on the right track, Miller said.
“The greatest thing about Texas is nobody is going to hide anything from you,” he said. “If they think it’s garbage, they’ll tell you. If they think it’s good, they’ll never stop telling you.”
He likes to make people feel at home as soon as they arrive.
“Everybody that shows up, it’s like your cousin’s house,” Miller said. “We’re glad to see everybody.”
The city gave Big D a couple of boosts, too.
In 2014, Mansfield changed the wording on its ordinance about alcohol sales near school district property, which allowed Big D to sell beer.
“When we moved in, we had no intention of selling beer,” Giddings said. “The Mansfield (school district) administration building is right across the street. We wouldn’t have been considered for a license.
“In 2014, Mansfield changed the wording to classroom setting from school property,” he said. “We immediately applied for a license. Before we got our license, we were BYOB and we gave away beer, a case of Shiner on Fridays and a case on Saturdays.”
The restaurant started with three taps of mainstream beer, but soon branched into the new craft beers and were quickly up to eight taps.
“By the beginning of February 2015, we had 20 kinds of beer and we saw we weren’t selling as much of the main beers,” Giddings said. “We let it trickle down and went to exclusively craft beers.”
The second boost came this summer when the city approved a $20,000 loan for improvements to their building. If Big D stays in business at the same location for the next five years, the loan is forgiven. The restaurant got a new paint, a 20-foot bar, lots of new seating and a pair of glass garage doors that can be raised during good weather. The plan is to turn the small stage area into a bottle area soon so people can buy craft beers to take home, Jordan said.
The barbecue boys aren’t done yet. This summer they announced plans to open Cowtown Brewing Co. on Belknap Steet in Fort Worth. The new place will be much larger, have an outdoor patio and brew its own beer. The goal is to have it open by next summer, they said.
But the boys aren’t forgetting where they started.
“Mansfield has been great to us,” Giddings said. “It’s got a small-town mentality. If you’ve got something good, word gets around.”
Big D Barbecue
226 N. Walnut Creek Drive