MOORESVILLE – Aug. 31 will mark the two-year anniversary of Big Tiny’s BBQ, a downtown restaurant steeped in family tradition and values.
Owners John and Elizabeth Maddox opened the restaurant after careers in racing and administrative services, respectively, with barbecue recipes developed and gathered from each of their families.
They named the restaurant after their first-born “furry child,” Big Tiny. Unfortunately, Big Tiny died at 11 years old on July 26, just over a month before his namesake’s anniversary.
With a combination of heavy hearts and excitement for the future, John and Elizabeth talked about what they remember of the past and what they envision for the future.
Mooresville Citizen: How did you decide to open Big Tiny’s BBQ?
John Maddox: We were both working full-time jobs. … And we were looking at how we worked our jobs, and basically we worked them like we owned the place and devoted ourselves to those things. And at the end of the day, we didn’t own those places. So we wanted to do something where our efforts were put toward our family. … It’s something we think we’re good at. We’ve been doing catering and stuff for a long time, and a lot of people appreciated it and liked it. So we thought we’d give it the old college try.
Elizabeth Maddox: And we’re passionate about it. You’ve got to have the base talent for it, if you will, and he’s been doing it since he was a kid basically, in high school. It was just kind of natural. … And while it’s a huge responsibility, we like the fact that we’re providing jobs and paychecks to local people that work here. It’s kind of a mini family, if you will, because we only have 13 employees typically. So we’re a smaller place.
JM: And on that same thing, we’ve had employees come and go, but we’ve also found some good employees that like to work and want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They’re good people. We like being able to provide a living for people that want to be a part of this.
MC: How do you build that family environment?
JM: It’s tough. It was rough-going in the beginning. It’s an ongoing development and challenge cultivating that type of environment. Were we good at it in the beginning? No. Are we good at it now? Maybe a little better.
EM: We know the culture that we want to have here, which is a family, wholesome culture. And along the way, you’ve got a lot of different personalities that come in and contribute and work in that culture. … But I think at the end of the day, because it is just he and I and it’s small, they enjoy working here. We treat people like we want to be treated, and really that’s what it’s about.
MC: How does it feel to have reached two years?
EM: It’s really weird. Because sometimes it feels like a lot longer, and sometimes it’s like, ‘Wow, time goes so fast.’ It feels like we were just telling people we’ve been open six months. But they always say in the restaurant industry if you can make it past the first year, it’s the toughest. So if you have a two-year anniversary to celebrate, you should really be proud of yourselves.
JM: We’ve still got a long road ahead of us. We still learn every day something new about the business. Something new every day about the people who work for us. Something new every day about the people that come in and dine with us. So every day we try to make something a little better.
EM: And in this business, the biggest thing I’ve learned is you can’t ever get stagnant and stay in the same place. There’s a million restaurants, and people have a lot of choices of where they can come spend their money. So you can’t ever get comfortable. You have to constantly keep the wheels moving on how can you be better and how can you stand out.
MC: Obviously it must be hard to celebrate this milestone without Big Tiny. How are you feeling?
JM: We started calling our catering thing Big Tiny’s BBQ before we even really had great aspirations of having a restaurant. It was just kind of cute and catchy, and we thought it would go over well. And now he’s our mascot. And his name will live on as long as we keep the business open. So it was good that we named it that.
MC: What do you envision for your next year?
JM: It’s another year of, I’m sure, surprises at the restaurants of what went wrong, what do we have to fix, what do we have to make better, how can we improve.
EM: It’s all about growth. And with the processes in place and the people and the menu and all this stuff, how can we grow? You don’t want to be a year from now, you know, (and) be in the same place. You want to have improved and grown and moved forward and really be more successful than we are today. And that’s a hard thing to do, but that’s the long vision.