Vacant store an opportunity, challenge for BBQ shopGrand Forks has waited until this week for a celebrated purveyor of Texas-style barbecue, so the local franchise owner figures that diners here should be willing to stand another slight delay. “The food is good enough that people will be willing to take an extra 15 seconds to get here,” said Josh Becker, owner and operator of a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, scheduled to open Thursday at South Washington Street and DeMers Avenue in Grand Forks.
By: Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks has waited until this week for a celebrated purveyor of Texas-style barbecue, so the local franchise owner figures that diners here should be willing to stand another slight delay.
“The food is good enough that people will be willing to take an extra 15 seconds to get here,” said Josh Becker, owner and operator of a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, scheduled to open Thursday at South Washington Street and DeMers Avenue in Grand Forks.
The intersection is the busiest in town, giving the restaurant the visibility coveted by businesses but making it hard to reach. The 15 seconds he referred to are the delay drivers often have turning into his location.
A Hardee’s restaurant operated in Becker’s building from 1974 to 2004 and then Mi Mexico restaurant from 2009 to 2011. Despite the location’s reputation as a challenge, Becker is confident the numbers are in his favor.
“We get 46,000 cars by here a day,” he said.
Becker hopes to introduce some of those drivers to the smoked beef brisket, pulled pork and other barbecue items from Dickey’s.
The traffic numbers are in Becker’s favor. The peak traffic time sees 5,200 cars in an hour, according to a study of the Washington Street corridor by the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“It’s definitely a convergence point,” said Teri Kouba, an MPO planner.
The Sorlie Bridge between downtown Grand Forks and East Grand Forks funnels traffic from Business U.S. Highway 2 to west DeMers Avenue, where it meets Grand Forks’ main north-south corridor.
“It tends to be where people decide where they need to go,” Kouba said.
But while the volume is there, it can be daunting for some drivers trying to access businesses around the intersection. Dickey’s will be on the southeast corner of the intersection, and drivers going south on Washington have to turn left against heavy traffic to access the business.
The building’s owner said that problem is exaggerated.
“I think it’s more people that don’t know much about business who say that,” said Dan Sampson, who purchased the building in 2007. “I bought it for the location.”
Traffic is the important factor in location, he said, and the volume there did not stop the Fuji Japanese restaurant from opening, along with Planet Fitness in the former Leevers grocery store just to the south. Traffic is also heavy along 32nd Avenue South, where most franchise restaurants locate.
“They’re hard to get into, too, or harder,” Sampson said.
Hardee’s closed its location there during financial trouble for the national company. Mi Mexico opened in 2010 but closed 18 months later.
Mi Mexico co-owner Fred Garcia said he had trouble hiring and keeping workers, but the location was difficult, too.
“It doesn’t help too much,” he said.
The restaurant still has locations in the region.
Becker believes he has the product to attract people even if the traffic is a challenge.
A Texas native and lifelong devotee of barbecue, he grew up eating at Dickey’s.
Becker was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, and he and his wife decided to stay in Grand Forks after leaving the service this year. He sees a Dickey’s franchise as an opportunity to introduce the Texas-style meat to a new place.
“I think it’s a market that hasn’t been touched,” he said.
The restaurant was founded in 1941 and was a popular Texas chain for years before it began franchising in 1994 and growing nationwide. The nearest Dickey’s until now is in Fargo.
The restaurant is in the “fast casual” style, but smokes its meat on site. In beef-loving Texas, barbecue often means chopped or sliced brisket, though Dickey’s also sells pulled pork, pork ribs and chicken breast.
Becker said he considered 32nd Avenue when choosing a location, but he liked the DeMers and Washington location because it is close to residential areas.
“The way I see barbecue, you want to be where people live, not where they shop,” he said, citing an observation by his wife that traditional barbecue shops are neighborhood businesses.
“This building was the one I chose from the very beginning,” he said. “When all is said and done, this is the location I wanted to be at.”
Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.