Carey Bringle, aka The Peg Leg Porker, is a hardworking BBQ entrepreneur. He comes by his nickname honestly, having lost a leg to bone cancer while still a teenager, but he doesn’t let this slow him down one bit.
Already a popular and successful performer on the competitive barbecue circuit for years, Bringle has expanded the Peg Leg empire over the past year to include a restaurant in the burgeoning Gulch neighborhood of downtown Nashville and launched his own brand of Tennessee Bourbon under the Peg Leg logo. Unique in the category as neither a Tennessee whiskey nor a typical Kentucky bourbon, his new spirit has achieved great acceptance in more than 250 retail and bar outlets since the launch.
I sat down for a visit with the Peg Leg Porker himself to discuss his whirlwind year.
So after a little more than a year of restaurant operation, how’s it gone compared to your expectations?
It’s been great! We’ve doubled our initial sales forecasts, but even better, we’ve had an amazing reception from the downtown community and Nashville in general.
Did you encounter any issues or surprises with the opening process?
We didn’t have any sort of soft opening. We opened really hard. It was only a week after we got back from taking 9th place in pork shoulder at Memphis in May, so we had next to no time for staff training. Some of our servers had never seen the food they were plating and we were ballsy enough to celebrate the opening by cooking a 315 lb. Mangalitsa whole hog the first time we ever fired up the pit. Oh, and we were being filmed the whole time. But everything went fine, thanks to the help of friends and family.
You’ve spent a lot of time being filmed. What shows have you been on?
Before we opened, I had already appeared on BBQ Pitmasters and Chopped. (Read about Bringle’s experiences on Chopped and why there is a Twitter profile for @RawShrimpHead on Bringle’s blog.) Since then we’ve been on Hungry Brothers for TLC, Bizarre Food America and a few others that haven’t aired in the US yet.
Your restaurant seems to be really popular among chefs and other pitmasters. Who’s come through your door in the first year that we might have heard of?
Well, of course Andrew Zimmern spent some time here shooting Bizarre Foods, and Michael Symon came by and gave us a shout-out on The Chew. Other nationally and regionally notable chefs who’ve been in include Jonathan Waxman, Sean Brock, Levon Wallace, Donald Link, Stephen Stryjewski, Ryan Prewitt, Joseph Lenn, Edward Lee, Ashley Christensen, Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer. Locally, chefs like Tandy Wilson, Pat Martin, Tyler Brown, Hal Holden-Bache, Trey Cioccia and Jason McConnell have been big supporters and really helpful to us.
The soundtrack at Peg Leg Porker is always fantastic, from Earl Thomas Conley to Van Halen to “Barry White Wednesdays.” You’ve had some famous musician visitors too right?
I was watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this year and Questlove introduced Hall and Oates, and the E Street Band was also inducted. I realized that Questlove, John Oates and Gary Tallent of E Street have all been in this year. We also see the Kings of Leon and the Black Keys in here fairly often.
How do you describe your style of barbecue?
People get obsessed over the regional differences. What I do is what I know, and that’s West Tennessee-style barbecue. My earliest memories are of eating barbecue at Lewis’ Store in Moscow, Tennessee, with my grandmamma. I grew up on the BBQ Shop, Cozy Corner, John Wills and Bozo’s, and I still love Memphis barbecue like Central BBQ. I just wanted to open up a great joint like the ones I grew up with, and I love it when folks think we look like we’ve been open for 30 years!
What are your future plans?
I never say never, but we didn’t open with plans to turn Peg Leg into any sort of a chain or anything. There’s so much pressure to open another restaurant if you already have a successful one, but we weren’t ever trying to make it easy to duplicate. I’d rather have one awesome place than try to replicate it and degrade the quality.