CA: Central BBQ plans expansion to cities east and west
Collierville or Germantown will be the first new destination for the Central BBQ chain as it takes its style of smoked pork outside Memphis to cities throughout the Southeast.
Memphis conglomerate Kemmons Wilson Companies said Monday it has invested in Central and will guide the expansion to cities between Dallas and Knoxville.
Regarded in Memphis as a business success story, the restaurant chain emerged out of Central Smokers, a small team of soccer enthusiasts competing in the Memphis in May International World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
Craig Blondis and Roger Sapp opened the first Central BBQ in Midtown in 2002 in a former fastfood restaurant. Since then, Central has opened two other sites, also in relatively inexpensive buildings in the city, and has made a reputation as a popular brand of Memphis barbecue.
“Something I always wanted to do was grow outside this market, but I’m just too busy,” said Blondis, who was preparing Monday to compete with the Central Smokers’ team in this year’s Memphis in May barbecue contest.
Kemmons Wilson will finance the expansion and own a majority stake in the new restaurants, Blondis said, while the ownership structure of the existing business remains intact. Besides the three restaurants, Central operates a catering business, a food truck and has about 130 employees.
“They’re going to do everything on their dime, but Craig and I are going to supervise, to keep the quality and the character we want,” Sapp said.
“Craig and I will not open another Central. We’ll keep the three we have, but the rest of them will be (Kemmons Wilson).”
Central will branch first into Collierville or Germantown, Blondis said. A site has not been chosen in either suburb.
Central joins a number of restaurant companies branching out of the city. The barbecue restaurants Corky’s and Rendezvous ship food nationwide and the chains based here include Gus’s fried chicken, Lenny’s sandwiches and Lyfe Kitchen healthy fast food.
Kemmons Wilson Companies, a 4,000-employee firm founded in 1948, traces to the late Kemmons Wilson of Holiday Inn fame. In 2014, four of his grandsons were named principal leaders of the firm. They are Webb Wilson, Spence Wilson Jr., Kemmons Wilson III and McLean Wilson.
Kemmons Wilson founded Holiday Inn in Memphis in 1952. The hotel company was the city’s largest Fortune 500 corporation when it was sold and moved to Atlanta in 1991.
Kemmons Wilson Companies operates in the aviation, financial services, hotels, insurance, real estate and time-share housing industries.