How I Keep My Father's Memory Alive ... With Barbecue
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Eating & Drinking

How I Keep My Father's Memory Alive ... With Barbecue

A son connected with his dad through food, and now he’s doing the same with his kids

Collage of Todd Brown and Brown's BBQ of Midland, Texas
The Arrow

My dad had barbecue in his blood. 

My parents got divorced when I was young. My dad lived in California, and I stayed with my mom in Midland, Texas. But from the time I was 8, my mom let me go to California every summer to spend time with him. 

He had his own restaurant, Brown’s Barbecue, and he taught me the ropes. He would leave me over the barbecue pit with 10 slabs of ribs and tell me, “Don’t let it burn.”

As a teen, I got into drugs and went to prison in 1990 for possession. I turned 21 behind bars. I still keep my indictment papers to remind me.

When I got out, my dad was starting to ail a little bit. He would drink and smoke two packs a day standing over a barbecue pit. He came out to Texas to visit me and said he wanted us to perfect his barbecue sauce. 

He’d taken it as far as he could. He was smart but not booksmart. The FDA, the pH testing, the barcodes, contracts, NDAs — he was illiterate to that stuff and was scared the recipe would be stolen from him. But he trusted me.

I got the recipe from my dad on his deathbed. This sauce was something he held dear and true to his heart, and he wanted to pass it on. My dad had three sons and he told me, “I just feel that you’re gonna be the guy out of my boys who is gonna make this work.”

My dad passed away in November of 2002. I came back to Texas, gave my employer five weeks’ notice, and ain’t looked back since. 

My wife and I started selling brisket burritos out of a cooler in 2003, just driving around town. I started waiting tables at Red Lobster and would sell the brisket to the servers before our shift would start. They’d make sandwiches on the Cheddar Bay Biscuits, and I would be $300 up before I’d even started my shift. 

I was getting around, just trying to make a name for myself. There were times the electricity got cut off, times when we didn’t have water. But I kept my nose in the dirt and kept grinding, and I’ve been blessed all the way. 

Here we are, 20 years later. We have a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and I just got back in town yesterday with my third brand-new food truck.

Today I think my dad would be happy, but he would know the work’s not finished. The last thing I have to do is get this barbecue sauce bottled and in stores. That’s going to create the residual income and generational wealth for my kids. I have two daughters and a son, and my son just had a son.

You know the saying that family and friends are always the number one no-no in business? Well, I met my wife in a restaurant, and my kids yearn for the opportunity to come back to work for Dad. They all know how to cut meat. They all know how to barbecue. They all know how to wash dishes. 

My son — very booksmart, the first generation of our family to graduate college — works in oil and gas here in West Texas. 

I’ve never tried to force it, but I think deep down inside, it’s in him. Just like my dad, and like me, barbecue is in his blood.

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