Unless you bought a t-shirt or coffee mug to mark the occasion, you may not realize Old Hickory Bar-B-Q is celebrating its 100 year landmark anniversary in 2018.
“We’re still going strong, even though we haven’t changed much,” said 5th-generation owner John Foreman. “But we’re still growing. And we’re still busy.”
Old Hickory prides itself in using the same recipes passed down from generation to generation. Same sauce, same dip, same style of hickory-smoked barbecue.
That tradition dates back to 1918, when John’s great-great-grandfather Charles “Pappy” Foreman started selling barbecue on a pit at 25th and Frederica, a half a block from where the restaurant currently sits. John’s dad and grandfather took over in 1979 and John took ownership in 2002.
“I wanted to give dad a break to enjoy the rest of his life, and I was ready to take over and give him that break,” John said. “He deserved it.”
John started hanging around the restaurant when he was ten years old and says he’s worked every job there is in the business.
“I had to be really good at everything before I could move up, too,” he laughed.
As he explained in a Kentucky Tourism video released last Friday called “Better in the Bluegrass,” John’s dad worked every day, and he wanted to be around his dad, so he went to work too.
“Seeing my dad work so hard made me want to work hard. And I kind of wanted to prove myself,” John said. “Well, then you start loving it. So I wanted to be better at everybody else in every position.”
There’s already a 6th-generation employee. John’s oldest daughter works in the restaurant over the weekends, summer break, and holidays when she’s home from Western Kentucky University.
In addition to the dine-in restaurant, Old Hickory does a lot of custom-cooking business around the holidays where customers bring in turkeys and hams for the Old Hickory pitmasters to smoke for them. John said they smoked around 800 turkeys in two-and-a-half days before Thanksgiving.
“We kept the pits full all day and all night, just reloading turkeys as others were done. It was continuous,” John said.
The Kentucky Tourism video was a welcome surprise.
“They came and filmed during Bar-B-Q Festival weekend,” John remembered. “It was the biggest crew I’ve ever seen. Probably a dozen people. It felt like being on a movie set.”
Be on the lookout for an international video that was filmed on location at Old Hickory a few months ago for a U.S. tourism campaign. John says that promotional video is based on the Bourbon, Bluegrass, and Bar-B-Q Region and will be shown for the Overseas Market.
But don’t think all this publicity is going to his head.
“It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve enjoyed it,” John said. “But I’m still the same guy. I still go to work every day.”