Meet me Downtown: Collins River BBQ

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Collins River BBQ's Joe O'Neal and pick his brain about the restaurant business, how ridiculous we think we sound on an answering machine, kayaking, and all things PORK (YUM!).

Collins River BBQ is a staple here downtown. Most days, you can find Joe, his wife Hanna and his brother Chris in the kitchen whipping up some slow roasted brisket or signature loaded potato salad, or behind the counter greeting guests and taking orders. The staff is friendly and courteous, the atmosphere is JUST RIGHT with its exposed brick walls and mix of vintage and modern decor, and the food is outstanding by any standard, even here in the south where BBQ is king.

Joe let me in on the humble beginnings of his restaurant and how, with the help of his wife and brother, they grew out of their traveling food truck and into one of the most popular restaurants in McMinnville, TN.

Brook: So... what's the story? How did you get bitten by the BBQ Bug? (disclaimer: A BBQ bug is probably not a real thing, I'm just guessing...)

JOE: Well, I was born and raised in McMinnville... graduated from Warren County High School in 1997 and worked at Prater's BBQ for a while after graduation. I originally went to college for environmental agro-science (Brook: I didn't know what this was, but its basically the art of farming and all things farming related.. woah..) and worked my way through college at a restaurant. I decided I liked it better than my major so I changed directions and ended up in culinary school. I never looked back.

Brook: So you're actually a trained chef? You decided you LOVED cooking and totally uprooted your plans and just WENT FOR IT? Wow. That took some guts...

JOE: Yeah. I came back to McMinnville in 2009 after chef school and began a catering business and a food van. I was in the catering business and food van until my brother Chris came on board in 2012 when we opened the restaurant on Main St. Chris graduated from TN Tech with a degree in Business Management.

Brook: So, besides the fact that its flippin' delicious, why BBQ?

JOE: I worked at Calhoun's in Gatlinburg as their Head Smoker, so I learned to cook the ribs, brisket, pork and all that and found out I was really good at it.

Brook: What's with the name? Has it always been Collins River BBQ? I remember when I first moved here and someone invited me to eat at Collins River I thought they were inviting me to a picnic by the river LOL!

JOE: It's always been Collins River BBQ. I lived on the Collins River most of my life and the name just kind of seemed to fit.

Brook: So what does the future hold for Collins River BBQ?

JOE: The goal is to be around for the next 50+ years! One new interesting thing we have coming up is we're going to try to partner with local suppliers to get free range chicken to serve. We're also going to keep doing the singer/songwriter nights on the 3rd Thursday every month.

Brook: Tell me a fun fact about the restaurant? Have you ever had a FOOD FIGHT??

JOE: No food fights! LOL! We'll throw pickle jar lids at each other but no food because SOMEBODY has to clean that mess up! We just all try to get along, the staff is like one big family! We like to go kayaking all together on Sundays.

Collins River BBQ & Cafe' is located at 117 E. Main St. in McMinnville, TN ~ (931) 507-3663.

Collins River BBQ Cafe' is a proud member of Main Street McMinnville.


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