When four brothers launched a restaurant in downtown Memphis in 1988 with only tables, chairs and one barbecue pit, no one could have guessed Neely's Bar-B-Que would become one of the most successful restaurants in the southern United States.
But 10 years later, the restaurants have multiplied, barbecue wars have been waged and won and now, and husband and wife team Pat and Gina are about to take the Neely family's barbecue secrets national with a new television show on the Food Network.
Down Home with the Neelys, will give viewers a peek into the kitchen of the fun-loving cooking couple to learn how to make dishes such as Barbecue Spaghetti, Memphis-Style Hickory-Smoked Ribs and Sweet and Spicy Coleslaw.
Q: They say down south you have to pick a side: barbecue or deep fried. Why barbecue?
P: "Well not really. We like it fried and grilled. But if you come to Memphis, honey, you're gonna get it barbequed."
G: "You can get it wet or dry but you will get it barbequed."
Q: What inspired you to open a barbecue business?
P: "All my life it's just been a big love for food. Cooking is something you truly have to have a passion for and Gina and I have always had a passion for cooking and so it wasn't a hard decision that this is what we wanted to do for a living."
Q: Were you surprised that the restaurants became so successful?
P: "At that point, I must say, we were in very dire straights. All we wanted to do was to earn a living. We came from very humble beginnings and we knew one thing: we knew how to grill, we knew how to cook and we knew hard work. We put those two elements together and over the last 20 years we just tried to build this thing the best way we could and do an outstanding job everyday. One of my mottos is: every day I open my restaurant, I open it like it's the first day that I opened it, and put my best foot forward."
Q: Have you thought about opening a restaurant outside of the South?
G: "We try to keep a family member in each restaurant, that's one of our mottos that we stand by. You will always find a Neely member in each location, so I don't know if we've got any more brothers that would be willing to relocate right about now."
Q: How do you keep your barbecue recipes fresh and exciting?
P: "I think that what we have tried to do over the years is to somewhat separate ourselves because there are over 100 barbecue restaurants in the Memphis metropolitan area and you have to find a way to create your own niche and your own signature."
Q: What is the most important ingredient in your barbecue sauce?
P: "You know, I believe that a recipe is a recipe. But what really makes a recipe good is being committed and having passion for doing it. It's hard to say because there are so many ingredients in our barbecue sauce but I think consistency and consistently making it right every day and having some passion about doing it is really the true ingredient."