If there’s one surefire way to gauge a restaurant’s popularity in Alabama, it’s the number of cars in the parking lot during the Sunday lunch rush. The standard holds true at 306 Barbecue in Athens.
“Some Sundays, we have over 400 people come through here. It’s controlled chaos, as we like to call it,” said Justin Burgreen. “We serve at a very fast pace.”
Justin does most of the cooking for the restaurant and is one of three co-owners along with Whitney Skipworth and Lee Noah.
“We have stood around the pit many times over the years and said, ‘Man, I can’t believe we just served this many people today or catered this big event today.’ It’s just crazy, thinking we started in a driveway, and now we’re here,” added Lee.
COOKING UP A RESTAURANT
Up until 2011, when the restaurant opened, the three men were barbecuing as a hobby in Whitney’s driveway. They all met through mutual friends, and their weekend get-togethers with friends would always revolve around the food and the smoker.
“That is what led us to the shared interest in barbecuing together,” remembered Justin. “One thing just led to another.”
Word of their delicious barbecue started spreading, and the guys found themselves providing full-service catering for local events. The buzz continued to grow as more people tasted – and loved – the food. With encouragement from their fans, Justin, Lee and Whitney began to realize the potential of their venture and considered taking the next steps to bring their food to the masses. When a great restaurant location became available, the other pieces fell into place.
“Back when we were cooking in the driveway, we’d always tell people, ‘Come pick it up at 306.’ That was Whitney’s house number. So, when we decided to open a restaurant, that name just stuck,” Lee said.
WHEN THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRE
They’ve come a long way from the driveway smoker at 306 North Lindsay Lane.
Today, 306 Barbecue is a full-service restaurant featuring fresh meat and delicious side items cooked twice daily on site. The popularity of 306 continues to grow as word spreads about the three guys with a smoker who dish out some fine, Southern food.
“I was actually eating at a Mexican restaurant in Birmingham the other day,” Lee recalled. “Our waiter asked where we were from. When I said Athens, he said, ‘I drive through there a lot. And when I stop, there is a barbecue joint I love that’s about a mile off the road.’ We laughed and asked, ‘306?’ He told us that was it! It was so surreal.”
There’s also a 306 Barbecue franchise in downtown Florence, which opened two years ago.
“The owners there had a fondness of our food, and we had a fondness for expanding over there,” said Justin. “It just came together, and it’s been really successful.”
While Whitney, Justin, and Lee are open to more franchise opportunities in the future, they don’t have any firm plans for expansion just yet.
“It would have to be at the right place at the right time. And we’d want to make sure the food and the taste is consistent with who we are,” added Justin.
For now, he says, they’re focused on continuing to deliver the very best to their customers.
“There’s no doubt – if you want to be in the restaurant business, you have to be dedicated. There is nothing about it that I would say is easy, but you do get everyday satisfaction from people eating your food, enjoying it and telling you how good it is. That’s what keeps you going every day,” said Justin.
“You pinch yourselves sometimes,” said Lee. “But with hard work and a good product, that’s what you expect.”
Story by Melissa Johnson Warnke
Photos by Brandon Robbins