VanDyke says 'highway visibility'
keys ventures' growth
Old Glory waves in the breeze over a low-slung red
The smell of barbecue fills the air, while a customer looks
over a wooden gazebo and two miniature schnauzers scurry
Traffic noise from Route 15/29 drowns conversations.
Joe VanDyke works long hours, but says it's worth the
"We haven't been out here two years, and things have
happened so fast."
Mr. VanDyke and his wife Brenda own three businesses on 2.4
acres of leased property in New Baltimore - Jammin' Joe's BBQ,
Piedmont Portable Structures and Cracked Pepper Gourmet. They
anticipate total revenues of $1.6 million this year.
Mr. VanDyke says he hails from the school of hard knocks.
He got married at 16, and then quit school to work in the
coal mines of Tazewell County in Southwestern Virginia.
"After three years (in the mines), I wanted out," he says
last Thursday in a cramped office at Cracked Pepper Gourmet.
"I knew I wanted to be my own boss some day."
The VanDykes - who recently moved from Haymarket to
Warrenton - purchased an existing portable shed business on
Aug. 29, 2003, and started a roadside barbecue stand at the
"We needed something extra to bring in more revenue," Mr.
VanDyke explains. "Jammin' Joe's has taken off. We cook 2,800
pounds of ribs, chicken and pork each week and sell another
700 pounds of side dishes."
His "special sauce" has a secret recipe.
The barbecue business accounts for just 17 percent of total
sales, with the portable structures commanding 80 percent.
"We sell 550 units a year. We have barns, gazebos, storage
sheds, chairs and play sets. Buildings can range from $1,000
to $30,000," he says. "Everything's made by the Amish in
Lancaster, Pa., and comes assembled."
So far this year, the shed sales have increased 43 percent
compared to 2004.
Although Jammin' Joe's may lure customers and appear more
visible from the highway, Mrs. VanDyke says each business
feeds off the other.
"We have a unique blend of businesses here," she says. "If
folks stop and buy some ribs, they'll see handouts about the
Cracked Pepper Gourmet, which is just a few yards away. If
they inquire about a shed, they can't help to get a whiff of
the great smells from the meat cooking."
The VanDykes feel their businesses receive a major boost
being located off a busy highway.
"The growth in the area has helped us, along with so many
vehicles driving by our property," Mrs. VanDyke adds. "That's
a tremendous boost."
An average 45,000 vehicles drive by the VanDykes'
businesses on Route 15/29 each day, according to the Virginia
Department of Transportation.
Open nine months, Cracked Pepper Gourmet features antiques,
Virginia wines and specialty foods and gifts.
"This shop is a lifelong dream of mine," Mrs. VanDyke says.
"My grandparents back in the '20s and '30s had the largest
antique store in Baltimore. It was a city block long. Some
people think antiques are a bunch of junk, but I always
Last Friday morning, Michaela "Baby" Thomas of Orlean fires
up the cooker with hickory and red and white oak. She gets
ready for the noontime rush.
"Weekends are the most busy days," Miss Thomas says. "Over
the July Fourth weekend, one lady ordered 40 racks of ribs, 20
whole chickens and 25 pounds of pulled pork. I've worked here
a year and have never seen anything like that."
The 18-year-old oversees Mr. VanDyke's barbecue operations.
"You keep it at about 200 degrees," she says of the
wood-fired cooker. "It takes pork longer to cook. On busy
days, we'll have both (cookers) going." A second cooker is
used primarily for catering events.
"It's hard work but it's fun," Miss Thomas continues.
"Usually you start the cooker at 8 and it takes the coals a
good hour to get hot. We open at 11, so I must be ready by
then. We're busy from 11 to 3, and again from 4:30 to 8."
The 6-foot rotisserie steel cooker, attached to a mobile
unit in the parking lot, can handle 200 half chickens and 60
racks of ribs at one time. Prices range from $6.50 for a
pulled pork sandwich with two ounces of homemade cole slaw to
$10.95 for a whole chicken (with sides) and $20.95 for 12
bones of St. Louis-style ribs.
Mr. VanDyke says he has $125,000 investment in cooking
Kevin Neff, en route from Fairfax to Lynchburg, stops for
the first time. He orders a half-rack of ribs with baked
"The hickory is not overpowering," Mr. Neff says. "It gives
the meat a good taste, and the sauce is sweet."
Mr. VanDyke experimented with recipes cooking smoked meats
for patrons in the 1990s, when he and his first wife ran a bed
and breakfast in Burkes Garden.
Mr. VanDyke held a variety of jobs after working the mines,
serving in the U.S. Army for seven years and earning extra
money playing guitar in a band. After getting divorced in
1997, he ventured to Florida and took a position in sales for
a roofing company.
During that time, he met Brenda, his wife of six years.
They returned in 2002 to Virginia, looking for a business
"We did a lot of soul searching," Mr. VanDyke says.
"Believe me, we wore out the Internet doing research."
The couple's four children and four grandchildren live in
Cape Coral, Fla., where they hope within two years to open a
three-in-one business complex similar to their venture in New
They also would like to open a sit-down restaurant,
possibly in Gainesville.
"We still work too many hours," he says trying to sidestep
Sadie and Sugar, their miniature schnauzers. "I get here at 5
most mornings to get caught up on paperwork and do research. I
don't usually go home until 9."
With eight employees, the VanDykes say they soon may hire
"Good help is hard to find," Mr. VanDyke says. "You have to
have dedication and determination to be a success. I learn
that from my granddad. He was self-employed. He worked the
land, had cattle, and did a little moonshining. Anything it
took to get by."
You may contact Managing Editor Paul Smith at 347-5522,
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