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After Eight Decades, it’s Anything But Business as Usual: How Roland Dickey Jr. is Continuing Innovation While Maintaining Tradition for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants

Safe to say it’s an accomplishment for any small family-run business to survive five years, let alone celebrate an eighty-year anniversary as the world’s largest barbecue franchise, but that’s just what Dickey’s Capital Group is doing this year. Headed by Roland Dickey Jr., the third generation to take over the family business, Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants seems to have discovered the secret (barbecue) sauce for mixing innovation with tradition. With over 500 locations across 43 states and internationally, Dickey Jr.’s focus on sustainable growth during his time as Chief Executive Officer first of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants and then its parent company Dickey’s Capital Group has propelled the company into notoriety, with Entrepreneur naming Dickey’s Barbecue Pit to their 2020 list of Top Food Franchises. 

Although a massive organization today, Dickey’s has remained a family-owned company since the original restaurant was opened in 1941. There at the first location in Dallas, Texas, Roland Dickey Jr.’s grandfather Travis Dickey combined his love of conversation with a passion for authentic, slow-smoked barbecue. While he worked the pit and prepared the meats, his wife Ollie Dickey was behind the counter assembling and serving their sandwiches. From the beginning the Dickey family proved to be inventive when it came to ideas, renting out space on the restaurant sign in order to help cover the costs of starting the restaurant, but also followed traditional business tactics of keeping costs low by offering a limited menu of beef brisket, pit hams, barbecue beans, potato chips, beer, bottled milk, and sodas. 

For over twenty years Dickey’s Barbecue Pit operated as a single standalone restaurant, but in 1967 when Travis Dickey’s son’s Roland Sr. and T.D. Dickey took over the business, they knew that their father’s legacy of quality, hickory-smoked signature meats deserved to be spread further. Under their direction Dickey’s Barbecue Pit expanded throughout the Dallas Fort Worth area, and soon became a staple fast-casual eatery for families across the Lone Star State. Just as the sight of a bright red Coca Cola can instantly have you craving the sugary soda, the brothers introduced Dickey’s iconic Big Yellow Cups for their drinks which have now become synonymous with the brand itself and will make your mouth water at the thought of a cool drink after some delicious barbecue. The company also became known for its popularity when it comes to catering events, and even today recognize the value barbecue has within the catering realm, aiming for 10 percent of a store’s revenue to come from catering. 

As demand for more locations kept growing, it was clear to the brothers that the next step would be franchising. Beginning in 1994, by 1998 their first location outside of Texas opened in Denver, Colorado, but they soon learned that while their Texas roots are a huge part of their brand there were also huge opportunities in catering to region-specific ideas of comfort food. In Iowa where cornbread reigns supreme, they developed a cornbread recipe that would also later be taken to the deep fryer in North Carolina to make hush puppies. It’s this attention to detail that has allowed the franchise to continue thriving through twelve separate recessions. Even in Texas, while a barbecue joint can have outstanding smoked meats, they often end up phoning it in when it comes to the sides, something that the Dickey family has vowed to never do. They even shy away from the standard of serving white bread with their dinners, instead having a baker make a high-quality semi-sweet yeast roll. 

Growing up, Roland Dickey Jr. was immersed from an early age in the family business. His dad taught him the trades of the family smoking process before he went off to college, earning a degree in business administration from Southern Methodist University before returning to work for the company in 1999. By 2006 he was made chief executive officer of Dickey’s Family Restaurants, and in his time leading expanded the already thriving family business from 20 locations to the over 500 it holds today. It was his push that took the chain first national and then international, but his business savvy saw him first make significant capital investments in information technology, marketing, advertising, construction, real estate management, logistics, accounting, and field operations support to make sure they had the infrastructure for such an undertaking. 

Dickey Jr. has made sure that the company not only keeps up with the fast-evolving technological advancements of today, but also seeks to be a trailblazer when it comes to cutting-edge technology. Working with his wife, Chief Executive Officer of the Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., Laura Rea Dickey, they have focused on utilizing information technology such as big data to drive results and finding the intersection between marketing and technology. They pioneered the company’s third-party delivery program, and developed a proprietary data platform called Smoke Stack, all of which has contributed to the company’s continued relevance in an increasingly digital world. 

In 2016, Dickey became the Chief Executive Officer of Dickey Capital Group, a newly created parent company for the company’s business ventures. He now oversees the family’s portfolio of businesses including retail products, manufacturers, real estate, metal fabrication and distribution companies, however his true passion remains with Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurant. Since its first iteration eighty years ago, it has been the Dickey family’s eagerness to capitalize on alternative business models and forward-thinking solutions that have grown the company to where it is today. In part, it is because they have been able to blend southern hospitality with growth and expansion that the company is where it is today. The company has remained open to change while still sticking to its roots, quite literally as the first location of Dickey’s is still open to this day. 

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