A Little Whitt’s Barbecue History
Since Mr. Bill Dean opened his first location in Antioch in March of 1978, Whitt’s Barbecue has become a Nashville tradition. Slow smoked the old-fashioned way over smoldering hickory wood, Mr. Dean brought the barbecue pork, turkey and ribs to town that Nashvillians craved. The locals fell in love with the food and got behind the business. Over the years, Whitt’s Barbecue has been voted “Best of Nashville” in the prestigious Nashville Scene and grown to over 20 locations in Middle TN and surrounding areas. Stop by one of several locations today and sink your teeth into the absolute best barbecue in town.
Where it All Began
Mr. Dean had no idea how big his idea would grow when he opened that first store. With a deep desire to own his own business, he bought into the Whitt’s Barbecue franchise from his hometown; Athens, Alabama. He had grown up enjoying that hickory smoked flavor and missed it after moving to Nashville. The occasional visit when he went back home simply wasn’t enough. Seeing the success of the business, he knew that it would be a hit in Nashville. Boy, was he right!
Bill spent several weeks training with the Whitt’s in Athens. Then, with his wife and three teenage daughters, he opened on a cold March day on a section of Antioch Pike that had not seen much development at the time. His wife, Peggy, was a public school math teacher by day and a restaurant worker by night and weekend. One or more of the daughters was always there when they weren’t in school. In the beginning, Whitt’s was open on Sundays. In those early years, even after more employees were hired, Sunday remained “family day”. Only Mom, Dad, and “the girls” worked. Several years later, the decision was made to close on Sundays to allow for a day of rest and family time for all employees.
By 1985, two of the daughters were married and their husbands joined the business. That same year, in order to accommodate additional Whitt’s Barbecue locations, a commissary was built in Nashville to cook and process all the meat. Prior to this, cooking was done at the four individual stores. The commissary would insure consistency and product quality by controlling the cooking process. All barbecue, even to this day, is cooked 24 hours over hickory smoke, and it is all hand-pulled. After building the commissary, the company grew to include a total of nine stores plus an outlet at the Nashville International Airport. In addition to these locations in Nashville, there are 17 sub-franchises in surrounding counties.
Throughout all the changes, Whitt’s has remained a family-run operation. All three daughters are still involved in some capacity. In addition, all three of their husbands are owner/operators of the company. Nowadays, the next generation is starting to work in the business. A couple of the grandchildren work part-time, and any of the twelve can be seen helping at the many caterings each week in the Nashville area.