by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
A local barbecue restaurant chain has both reached and surpassed the number 30.
Woody’s Bar-B-Q will begin a year-long celebration July 11 of the upcoming 30th anniversary of opening its first restaurant at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and University Boulevard. The party will include a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon followed by a spare ribs eating contest. The company has grown from one restaurant in 1980 to over 30 and climbing.
“We’ve backed off of company owned stores and we want to focus more on offering company support to franchisees,” said Jim “Woody” Mills, one of the founders of the chain. “It’s been a long time running a restaurant and it’s time to let someone else do it, but I’m not ready to get out yet.”
Mills was interviewed over the phone as he was helping to open a new Woody’s in Raleigh, N.C. The company has added franchises in Gainesville, Palatka, Miami, Atlanta, Charleston, S.C. and Dayton, Ohio also.
This expansion has been made possible through Internet advertising for potential franchisees and a reduction in equipment and property costs due to the current economy, Mills said.
“We are finding second generation restaurants, like the former Hardees we converted in Raleigh, that have all the equipment in place,” said Mills. “That makes it a lot easier and cost-effective to open a store when we don’t have to renovate as much.”
By cutting down on construction time, the company has been able to keep pace with its goal to open a new Woody’s every month in 2009 to push its total number of restaurants over 40 across the United States.
This prosperity is happening despite the current trend of a more calorie conscious society.
“Barbecue is still viewed as bad for you, it has a bad stigma,” said Yolanda Mawman, Mills’ ex-wife and business partner. “We have been proactive in designing a menu to cater to the eating habits of our customers.”
The current menu offers seven different salads and three different flour tortilla wraps, along with traditional barbecue favorites.
“We started off with cole slaw and barbecue baked beans as our sides,” said Mawman. “But now we have a variety of vegetables and different sides to choose from.”
Another facet of the business that has seen growth is catering. Each restaurant handles its own catering, and they can handle everything from a simple backyard barbecue to a large wedding, but calls have started to increase for one service in particular.
“The pig roasts have really become a novelty in the past year,” said Mawman.
The Woody’s catering crew smokes an entire pig at the customer’s location for the “Hawaiian Feast.” It serves about 50 people.
Woody’s also serves up its sauces from its Web site, www.woodys.com, which has been surprisingly successful with no advertising to draw people to the site.
“We didn’t think it was going to take off as well as it has,” said Mawman. “It’s really strange — we have done so well without having advertised it. People visit our restaurants and just start craving our sauces after they leave.”
Tangy Mustard, Woody’s Sweet and Smokin’ Hot are the three sauces available online.