Neal’s Famous BBQ celebrates the trip from $10 and a dream
Neal moved his operations to Dixie Avenue and Belle Avenue, bringing the family recipe sauce with him as he entered his third year of selling barbecue.
He met Jungle Jim Bonaminio and started selling his signature sauce collection at Jungle Jim’s at that time.
“Jungle became a mentor to me, introduced himself to me when he saw me in the paper,” Neal explains.
Sales of the sauce and the success of the barbecue itself led to the relocation to a location on Central Avenue, where the restaurant really took on a classy, upscale look. It was possible to expand the menu and serve more customers.
“It really took off from there, doing a lot of urban events as a vendor at RiversEdge and Operation Pumpkin,” says Neal.
The sauces, food, and ribs started winning awards around the city and the tri-state area. Neal shared the story of starting with just $10, three loaves of bread, a package of meat, and a signature sauce. Her story inspires many to realize that you can start a business even if you don’t feel like you have a lot of resources at first.
With their expansion, they moved to their iconic downtown location at 202 N. Third St., a downtown staple that’s been around longer than many of the other newer businesses in the area. Neal has been involved in welcoming new business owners to the revitalized High Street, while preparing delicious, award-winning BBQ every day.
Awards such as Best of the Midwest and Best of the North have been handed out over several years, with Neal’s original barbecue sauce flavor consistently wowing judges and customers alike. In addition to the original flavor, its bottled sauces include Kickin’, Carolina Gold, Bootlegger, Jamaican Jerk, Spicy Garlic, and Mrs. Deb’s Sweet Chili Sauce.
Over the past two years, they’ve made improvements and changes, from expanding their event catering trailer to a full restaurant on wheels, and also releasing house blended teas.
During the COVID pandemic, a strong takeout business, restaurant work with various businesses in the area, and a supportive city and chamber of commerce have helped them overcome challenges. They even had the opportunity to deliver tasty barbecues through meals on wheels to the city’s seniors.
“We thank the Lord and we thank our city; they’ve been really generous and come up with ideas for local businesses here,” says Neal. “We’ve found a way to incorporate our sauces since we started selling them at Kroger.”
Selling their sauces more widely, at Kroger as well as Jungle Jim’s, has allowed them to establish a scholarship fund at the Hamilton Community Foundation, as well as ongoing efforts like back-to-school and Christmas campaigns for local youth.
“I love growing with this company and learning something new every day,” Neal said. “We have been very blessed, and my humble beginnings have taught me a lot.”