The world is more connected now than it ever has been in the history of the human race. Technology has made it possible to travel thousands of miles in the course of a few hours, talk to someone across the world instantaneously, and it generally encourages the spread of new ideas and information. As we have gained the ability to break from our bubble and learn about the ways in which other people live, dishes and cuisines that were once regional now have the chance to enter the spotlight, achieving recognition on a global scale.
This idea has not been lost on Laura Rea Dickey, Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. As leader of the largest barbecue concept in the world, Laura Rea manages over 550 franchise locations within the United States, and since taking on the role in 2016, has made international expansion a priority for the brand. With seven international locations currently and a number of partnerships that will see many more opened from the United Arab Emirates to Singapore, Laura Rea’s focus on the intersection of marketing and technology has poised the company for explosive growth on an international scale.
Texas barbecue’s humble origins
The traditions of barbecue in the United States are as diverse as the country’s landscape itself. In North Carolina, a vinegar-based sauce is used on a whole hog, whereas just below in South Carolina more focus is placed on pig shoulder and mustard is the primary flavor profile for their sauce. Even within Texas itself, what is considered “real barbecue” can vary greatly. However, it cannot be denied that there is something special about the smoky, peppery brisket and sausage of Central Texas barbecue, whose traditions for preparation date back to the mid-1800s.
It was during that time that German and Czech immigrants began settling in the region, building the tiny Texas towns that still carry much of their traditions with them today. Opening grocery stores and meat markets, the economical settlers would take the brisket cut of the cow and slowly smoke it over a low heat in pits behind their shops. This method not only turned a normally tough cut soft and tender, but also infused it with a peppery, smoky flavor and also allowed the meat to be kept for longer periods of time without spoiling.
Soon, cowboys and cotton pickers caught on to the fact that this relatively cheap option made for a quick and delicious meal, and barbecue became a popular choice for them. The grocery stores and butcher shops would serve up slices of the moist brisket on pieces of parchment paper, and they would pull their sides from the grocery store shelves as well. As the cuisine grew in popularity barbecue joints began popping up across the region, but the traditions remained of delivering the meat wrapped in butcher paper, and serving it with the grocery store staples of crackers, pickles and onions.
A family business rooted in tradition
Like most Texans, Travis Dickey grew up eating barbecue, and in 1941 the World War I veteran decided to combine his love of slow-smoked meats and good conversations and opened up the first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Dallas, Texas. With an original menu consisting of just beef brisket, pit hams, barbecue beans, potato chips, beer, bottled milk, and sodas, Travis would work the pit and prepare all of the meats while his wife Ollie Dickey would serve behind the counter. Together, they ran the restaurant for over two decades while raising their sons Roland Sr. and T.D., and their daughter Elizabeth. They stuckto the traditions of Texas Barbecue even as the world grew and changed around them.
After Travis Dickey died, his youngest son, Roland Sr., took over the restaurant. Within ten years Roland had expanded to nine additional locations, with the help of his brother TD. Their father’s signature recipes and focus on traditional Texas barbecue made demand high, and by 1994 Roland Sr. decided to begin franchising their business. Roland Sr lead expansion efforts, and opened their first out-of-state location in Denver, Colorado and other states soon followed after, bringing Texas barbecue into the hearts of many who had never had a chance to experience it before.
When Laura Rea married the grandson of Travis and Ollie, Roland Dickey Jr., she never expected to take part in the family business. She carved her own path in marketing, working to help develop identity and branding campaigns for local, regional, and national companies. However, after Roland Jr. joined the company in 1999, and took over as Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. in 2006, he sought to rapidly expand the brand from 99 locations, eyeing a national push that would make the company one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country. He asked Laura Rea to join the company in a consulting capacity to provide her expertise in brand development, technology, and marketing, but her insights soon proved to be invaluable, and she was made Chief Information Officer for the company. Working with practically every department in the company, Laura Rea was instrumental in helping the company scale from under 100 locations to over 500 in just four years as she transformed the way the company viewed information and technology.
Specializing in bringing big data and information technology to the fast-casual sector, Laura Rea became Chief Executive Officer of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. in 2016. Since then she has sought to bring the brand’s expansion to an international scale, forming partnerships in countries across the globe to ensure the Dickey’s brand is properly introduced in each market. In 2018, the brand opened up its first international locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, tailoring its menu for the local market.
2021 has seen the buzz for Dickey’s internationally to reach new heights. Three new international locations opened up in the second quarter alone in Singapore, Japan and Yas Mall in the United Arab Emirates, and multiple announcements were made for future development. A new location was opened in Sao Paulo, Brazil –– the country’s largest city with a population of 12 million –– in September, and an additional 110 locations are slated to open in the coming years in the country through owner/operators Bruno Gallucci and Cyro Pires Xavier. 15 locations are expected to be opened over the next ten years in Singapore, two locations have opened in Tokyo, Japan, and the same owner, Lin (Jason) Sunsheng, that opened these two locations in Tokyo purchased the Master Rights for Japan. Additionally, and a country wide deal has been signed for Botswana.
Just as previous generations have been able to capture and grow the magic that Travis Dickey originally created with his first Dickey’s Barbecue Pit location, Laura Rea Dickey has managed to do the same on an international scale. The growth was inevitable, as the romanticized idea of Texas barbecue had been gaining popularity for a number of years, and Dickey’s had the structure and acumen to achieve scalable growth that has been unachievable for so many others. The world wants Texas barbecue, and Laura Rea and the Dickey’s Barbecue Pit team are working hard to give it to them.