You can still get a fill-up when you pull into Anthony DiFranco III’s business in the former Citgo station on Washington Street.
No car washes or fuel for the automobile, however. And, even though the new name on the sign says “Full Service,” DiFranco and partner Caleb Hawkins won’t wash your windows or check your oil.
What they will do is fill you up with barbecue ribs, chicken or pulled pork sandwiches with meat that is hickory-smoked right in downtown Maryville. DiFranco, of Powell, and Hawkins, of Loudon, opened Full-Service BBQ earlier this summer. DiFranco said this is just the kind of restaurant Maryville needed in this part of town.
“It is a good location with high traffic volume, DiFranco said. “And Blount County needed a good barbecue restaurant.”
The 30-year-old says he has been in the restaurant business 15 years and has been doing barbecue for about three and a half years. He took a break from the business and worked with Lamar Outdoor Advertising, but soon went back, going into business with his parents in an “Italian-themed deli” in Oak Ridge.
That restaurant closed, so DiFranco looked around for another venture, thinking first about a hamburger restaurant in Powell. It looked good, DiFranco said, but he was worried about the low traffic in the area. He wanted a restaurant that had a high traffic volume.
“It all fell in place with Full Service BBQ,” he said. “We loved this location. We saw this location as a barbecue restaurant from the beginning. We were anxious about not having a dining room and giving up that aspect of the dining experience,” he said. “But, rather than focus on atmosphere, we decided to just take an old building and have it open-air. It’s different, and it cuts down on overhead and allows us to produce a better product cheaper.”
DiFranco said he and Hawkins researched the community and what restaurants were available in different parts of Maryville. “This part of town didn’t have an easily accessible barbecue restaurant. We liked the property so much, we finally decided to just do and it would take off,” he said.
The two restaurateurs have enjoyed cooking barbecue for fun, and have won barbecuing competition. DiFranco said he won second place in chicken in a competition in Alerdt, Tenn. “We both enjoy barbecuing. It’s almost like we get to tailgate for a living,” DiFranco said. “It’s all outdoors, so you don’t have the stuffiness of an office.”
The business uses two cookers. “Both are tow-behind, small capacity but can produce enough to satisfy our needs,” DiFranco said. “We have a commercial indoor cooker we’re going to retrofit for outdoor use.”
Full Service BBQ can serve up to 500 people at a time on short notice. “A couple bus loads of students going to a football game can pull up, and we could pretty efficiently take care of them,” DiFranco said. “If someone called for a catering job with 24 hours notice, we could cater parties up to 1,100 people. We have the ability to cater anywhere in East Tennessee.”
The life of a barbecue restaurant entrepreneur is an around-the-clock venture. “My day starts about 6 a.m., and Caleb’s starts at 4 a.m. He’s the person who gets here by 4:30 to 5 a.m. and gets the smoker going,” DiFranco said.
Normally it takes 14 hours to cook the pulled pork. It comes off the grill about 10 p.m. The ribs take less time. They go in the smoker about 8 a.m. and come off between 3 to 5 p.m. depending on the wind, DiFranco said.
“We don’t cook for ‘X’ number of hours, we cook it until it’s done. I hate to see ribs go out that someone isn’t going to enjoy,” DiFranco said. “They spend a lot of money on food, so it should be the best ribs they’ve ever had.”
DiFranco said the long hours before they open are necessary to being efficient when customers begin arriving. “All the time in preparation makes the battle easier,” he said.
DiFranco said he obviously would like to see his store grow, and he wants to open up a couple more locations, either in Blount County, Knoxville or Lenoir City. “I definitely would like to see a new store in the next two years,” he said. “I’m very conservative in the way I want to grow my business. I’m going to do my best not to take loans - cash is the way to go.”
That philosophy extends out to how they invest in their business. Recently they purchased a vending truck with cash instead of getting a loan, and DiFranco said it was gratifying to be able to do that. “It was the best feeling -- buying a vending truck without a loan. It’s a vehicle, and it’s paid for,” he said. The pair want to use the truck to sell their barbecue at business sites, such as Denso, Alcoa and other factories, he said.
In addition to barbecue pork, the menu includes chicken, smoked sausage and ribs, plus green beans, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and cole slaw. Desserts are “pie of the moment” and banana pudding. For a catered event, you can also add beef brisket and pork loin and turkey breast as choices.
In the sauce department, they offer three choices: Tennessee Whiskey, Sweet and Spicy or Carolina Mustard.
Full Service BBQ is located at 113 S. Washington St., Maryville. They can be reached at 865-981-4414 or via the web at www.fullservicebbq.com.