In February of 2014, owner of Rivals BBQ, David Dixon, opened his restaurant on Jackson Avenue just west of campus.
Dixon originally came to Oxford to do tailgating packages for SEC football games, and felt Ole Miss was the perfect location for barbecue. A few years later, after a search for a location for a restaurant, he came across a for lease sign on the familiar red barn in Oxford. A few phone calls later, and after some preparation, Rebel Barn was born at its current location.
As his first restaurant, Dixon said that one of his hardships was getting it going. He had a search for the location, hire a staff, advertise, and find his customer base. The restaurant was a good location to keep his catering side of things going too.
“The beef brisket has been one of my biggest successes here at Rebel Barn,” said Dixon, “I’ve gone from selling one sandwich a week when we first opened, to selling 3 or 4 briskets a week. That is at least 50 pounds of brisket in a week. I started with just a kitchen and a drive through, and there was another business selling furniture out front, and I eventually took over the whole building.”
Dixon hires hard working employees that he knows will show up on time and do the job that needs to be done. He recruits his employees through ads on Craigslist of word of mouth throughout Oxford. Being a college town, there isn’t a shortage of workers.
Customer satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of running a restaurant in oxford. His favorite part of his business is the interaction that he has with the all the different customers that come in.
“I came to Rebel Barn for the first time my freshman year of college,” said sophomore student, Peter Andes. “My first time here, I didn’t really expect too much from a local what appeared to me as a fast food place. I ordered the BBQ nachos because my friend did too. After being served by an employee in the front, the owner came and talked to us and really wanted to make sure we enjoyed our experience.”
The experience at Rebel Barn is more than just the food. Inside the restaurant is decorated with red and white checkered table cloths, and the inside walls are paneled wood to give more of an authentic rustic feeling. There is a deli fridge by the counter that has different kinds of cold salads and cheese that the restaurant sells.
“We cook over an open flame, rotisserie cooker, which is the most labor intensive way to cook barbecue,” Dixon said. “ It’s not a set and forget gas cooker, you have to mind the cooker. We make everything in house. You will never see a food truck come and deliver here.”
Rebel barn has several different kinds of cheese made in house. The hams come locally sourced from Home Placed Pastures in Como, Mississippi, and then smoked at the restaurant. The barbecue sauce is Dixon’s own recipe.
With the growth in Oxford, Dixon hopes that more business will come to his restaurant. His customer base is about half Oxford locals, and half Ole Miss students. When the students leave for break, Dixon says more Oxford locals travel on Jackson Avenue, so his business isn’t affected too much over summer and winter breaks.
“I have brought my friends who have visited me from home, and some of my friends from school to try Rebel Barn,” Andes said. “When I first came here, there weren’t too many people, but now every time I go, there are more and more people, both students and locals alike.”
The most popular menu items include ribs, smoked chicken, beef brisket, and the pulled pork. For tailgating, Rivals BBQ offers sausage and cheese plates, ribs, and pulled pork by the pound. Dixon designed it as an order online service to pick up in the Grove on game day.
“Game days are a very hectic process here. Early games are rough on business, but night games are a lot better for tailgating,” said Dixon. “It all depends on ESPN decides to grant us that week. Like any other business in town, a high profile game will bring more customers into the restaurant as well.”
Dixon has participated in Memphis in May and had a top 20 finish. In the rib category, he finished 17th out of 185 participants that year. He plans on participating again this upcoming May with a new sponsor and a new booth. Dixon claims that Rebel Barn is one of the only Memphis style, dry rub rib places in Oxford.
Dixon plans on growing his one store and would like to have a larger customer base before he expands to another location. There is still a lot to be done to expand a business in Oxford.
“I enjoy having my own restaurant,” said Dixon. “If you are planning on starting a restaurant in Oxford be prepared to work. It’s hard work, and really think twice about it.”