Family-owned barbecue restaurant returning to city after eight-year absence

Family-owned barbecue restaurant returning to city after eight-year absence

March 8th, 2016 by Alex Green in Business Around the Region

Sportsman's BBQ will reopen later this month on Hixson Pike on the site of the former Henry's Skinny Pig.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

After eight years missing from the Scenic City's barbecue scene, Sportsman's BBQ is coming back.

The family-owned "Chattanooga-style" barbecue restaurant — which dates back to the late 1940s — will open at a new joint at 3874 Hixson Pike sometime later this month or the beginning of April, if everything goes as planned.

David and Deborah Johns, owners and operators of the old Sportsman's BBQ on Signal Mountain Road, are behind this installation as well, coming back to their sweet and savory roots after a stint working in the corporate food world.

"It's in our blood," said David Johns on Monday, "and just ever since we left, we've had an outcry from people wanting us to get back in the business."

Sportsman's BBQ originated with Johns' grandfather, Dee Sweeney, who started a barbecue joint on the old dirt road Highway 58 in 1949, with barbecue recipes he had collected while working in northern Alabama.

The "Chattanooga style" barbecue approach calls for red sauces, tomato-based barbecue sauce, as opposed to the white and vinegar-based Carolina-style, the dark, thick Kansas City-style or the spicier, tangy Texas-style barbecue traditions.

"Different regions have different kinds of sauces, and you're going to prefer probably whatever you came up on," said Johns.

He said like most states east of the Mississippi, Sportsman's BBQ will do a lot of pork sales, where west of the river, beef is typically more popular.

Either way, Sportsman's makes all hand-made dishes.

"All of our side items, everything," said Johns.

This incarnation of Sportsman's BBQ is the latest, following Sweeney's original Highway 58 restaurant, which Sweeney lost due to gambling debt.

There was a Brainerd Road location, then a Shallowford Road site, then a second Highway 58 location, opened in 1972. Sweeney sold the second Highway 58 location in 1982, tried out a few different sites and finally settled on Signal Mountain Road in 1983, where the joint remained for 24 years.

David and Deborah Johns bought out Sweeney's restaurant in the mid-1990s and ran Sportsman's BBQ until 2007, when they decided to close it down and go into the corporate world.

David Johns said Monday he is happy to bring the restaurant back, with the added benefit of lessons and experiences from the recent years he spent with Piccadilly Restaurants.

He said the Johns have invested around $50,000 to revive Sportsman's BBQ, and have landed an ideal location. The site Sportsman's will call home is a former barbecue restaurant, Henry's Skinny Pig. The 1,216-square-foot restaurant was built in 1981 but has been closed for the past couple of years.

"It looks like a barbecue restaurant," said Johns. "It was built to be a barbecue restaurant."

The building's rustic looks say barbecue, while the kitchen and brick pit open the food offering possibilities.

"The man who built it knew what he was doing," said Johns.

Sportsman's BBQ will be hiring 10 employees over the next few weeks, and Johns said he is looking for folks with restaurant experience to man the full-service restaurant, which will seat 30 inside, and 20 in a patio that's to be built this year.

Sportsman's will offer curb-side service for folks who want to pick up dinner without having to come inside.

For those who do want to call in an order, Johns has even more good news: the phone number hasn't changed. It'll be the same as the Signal Mountain location's old number.

"Everything's gone pretty well," said Johns. "We're really happy with our startup, and what's coming along with it."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480.