Championship barbecuers take time to master their craft and eventually be recognized at the top of their game.
Monday's opening of Naaman's Championship BBQ on State Line Avenue in Texarkana, Ark., just across the street from the former Texas-side location, is the latest milestone in Darby Neaves' and his wife Patti's journey to obtain championship status. They are the eatery's co-owners.
Their journey began in 2006 by participating in barbecue competitions.
It was hard work and literal sweat, but the Neaves persevered and began collecting titles and recognition, resulting in their eventually being invited to the Jack Daniels World Invitational BBQ Championship. While competing, they scored several high placings in various categories. Though none were a first-place finish, this was at an invitation-only event with the world's best barbecuers that year.
After a time, people began asking the Neaves to cater various events and they built up a brisk business doing that. But it did took a toll and Patti Neaves at one point insisted that this could not go on forever.
"Patti and I were living in a warehouse at the time, and she told me, 'We need to either quit this business or open a restaurant,'" Darby Neaves said.
So there it was.
From that would come the first version of Naaman's, their food truck, which later became a part of the cooking facilities when the first permanent version of Naaman's opened on the Texas side of State Line Avenue.
"This is not the end of the line for the food truck," said Darby Neaves. "It'll be rolling once again. It just needs some work done and then it'll be back in action."
Darby Neaves makes it clear that he did not accomplish this alone. Besides Patti and Naaman, others have been with them long term, making this barbecue enterprise happen.
"We could not get this done without a killer support staff," he said. "Some of them have been with us for years. In particular, Stuart Miller, the head of all meats; Treiere Smith, pit master; Jennifer Keener, general manager; and Micahla Swilley, assistant manager. They and more are what get it done on a daily basis. Without them, this would not happen."
Darby Neaves also credits keeping it simple and focused as they came through the years.
"Simple menu, focused staff and learning curve, learning to do the best at what we were doing," he said.
Also, when one enter's Naaman's new location, one sees a series of artifacts, each with a story.
"These aren't mere objects. They all add something of interest to the place. It is all about stories, when it all comes down," he said.
When a customer comes into the place, they see unique decorations and artifacts. Darby Neaves beams with pride over them.
"Every one of these has a story associated with it. That is what this is all about, a set of great stories. That and great barbecue," he said.