Barrel House BBQ celebrates 10 years with second restaurant at the Nearest Green Distillery

Barrel House BBQ owner Chuck Baker sits in the booth at his Lynchburg restaurant where he first met Nearest Green founders Keith and Fawn Weaver. He will celebrate his 10 year anniversary with the opening of Barrel House BBQ II at their Shelbyville distillery this week. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — It’s Sunday morning and there’s nothing easy going about it for Barrel House BBQ owner Chuck Baker.

It’s not even 10 a.m. and he’s already holding court. His website designer sits at a table mining for details on Baker’s two new businesses — one that launches on April 7 and another on Memorial Day. Moments later the hospitality liaison for a local VIP shows up for the first ribs of the day. He’s also training someone to take over as the original Barrel House BBQ pit master. In just 10 short years, Baker has evolved from bootstrapping small business owner to a force in southern, middle Tennessee tourism.

On April 7, Baker and his staff will celebrate the 10 year anniversary of his Lynchburg restaurant with the grand opening of Barrel House BBQ II at the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville — a move that has been in the air from the very first moment Baker met the distillery’s founders, Fawn and Keith Weaver.

For those who don’t know the story, Fawn Weaver became interested in the story of the formerly enslaved Black man who taught Jasper Newton Daniel how to make whiskey after reading the Clay Risen piece about him in The New York Times in June 2016. {To read that piece, click here.} Not long after, Fawn and her husband Keith visited Lynchburg to learn more about Nearest Green — a decision that ultimately led to launching a distillery to honor Green and his role in the Tennessee whiskey story.

Baker met the Weavers on their inaugural visit to Lynchburg and they’ve remained incredibly close ever since. So close in fact, that Baker credits the Weavers with the inspiration for his second location.

“The first day I met them, we sat at my house sipping a little local product until 1 a.m.,” Baker says. “From that very first night, all Fawn could talk about was duplicating Barrel House BBQ and here I am about to launch my second one at her distillery. How cool is that?”

During the Weavers first visit to Lynchburg, they ate at Baker’s restaurant multiple times and Fawn says that she knew Baker had a winning formula from the first bite.

“I’m a really picky eater. I love really, really good food and the fact that we were there every day and never got bored said to me that he had something special.”

Fawn also says that Baker has managed to create a signature style of barbecue for Middle Tennessee where one did not previously exist.

“He’s create something so special that it stands up to barbecue anywhere in this country,” Fawn says. “You don’t hear about Middle Tennessee barbecue. You here about Memphis or North Carolina or Kansas City barbecue. We don’t have a signature style here but what I love about what Chuck did is that he went with what tasted good to him and create a signature style out of that.”

Barbecue as a bigger shovel

Nestled in the shadow of Jack Daniel’s original rick houses that line Tanyard Hill, Baker says the idea for the original Barrel House BBQ came to him one night during dinner with good friends, Travis and Susan Burt.

At the time, he worked as a brick layer during the day and in his workshop at night building items out of whiskey barrels for The Lynchburg Hardware & General Store but he was looking for the idea that could be what he calls his bigger shovel.

“Travis asked me, what if you could build something unique that just made $1 off of each person who came through our little town. You’d be set,” Baker remembers. “A few months later, I found myself divorced and with time on my hands and I just couldn’t get Travis’s words out of my head. It wasn’t about the money. It was about building something new and unique and watching it grow.”

That’s when the lightbulb went off. Baker decided to start experimenting with adding barrel stave wood to his smoker and an Aha moment arrived. It something he still does even to this day.

“It wasn’t just a small business to me,” Baker says. “It was my bigger shovel — my way to use my work ethic and creativity to escape the nine to five grind into a place where I could thrive.”

A barrel head at the Barrel House BBQ marks the founding date of the original restaurant. They’ll celebrate 10 years with the opening of a second restaurant at the Nearest Green Distillery this Thursday. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

Eating crow at a barbecue joint

Baker opened Barrel House BBQ on April 7, 2012 and built every piece of his business from the ground up. Like many small business owners attempting to bootstrap a new endeavor, Baker continued to do two jobs until his dream took off. For the first year and a half, he laid brick during the week and served barbecue at night and on weekends.

Bakers says their were plenty of naysayers in the beginning.

“I had good friends approach me and tell me it would never work … that Lynchburg didn’t need another restaurant and even if it did, that folks would never walk down that hill to get to it.”

Baker says he nearly believed his critics but something inside of him nudged him to keep going. He says a few years later on a Saturday with a line out the door that same friend sat at a booth in Baker’s crowded restaurant and admitted he was prepared to eat crow.

“He told me that I’d made it work,” Baker says. “I told him that I didn’t do anything. It just works. That’s what you’ve got to do is work it. It will work if you work it. I could not have done this without my team, especially my general manager, Rebecca Cooper.”

Today, Baker and his crew serve their signature dish the now world-famous Grilled Cheese on Crack to people around the globe. In fact, it’s so popular that Yelp and Buzzfeed both voted it the number one grilled cheese in Tennessee and Time-Money voted it’s the third best in the World in 2018.

Paying it forward

Bakers says he’s busier now than he’s ever been. His day generally starts at 7 a.m. in the smokehouse rotating out chicken, pork, and ribs so that everything is served fresh that day. It’s a process that starts the night before and a loop that never ends in the barbecue game.

“It’s like Groundhog Day for me,” Baker says. “It’s the same routine over and over.”

Baker says in addition to the day-to-day, he’s currently laser focused on building a team to run both places during his busiest time of the year, tourist season.

“I feel like 2022 is going to be one of our biggest years. We’re seeing more and more international travelers each week,” Baker says. “Prior to COVID, we fed the world and I feel like we’re getting back to that point.”

Bakers says he’s now attempting to pay the love and support that the Weavers gave him forward by supporting another local would be entrepreneur. He and local Benji Garland just purchased the historic Hall Mill Grocery in Bedford County and plan to open Lucky Duck Canoe Rental on Memorial Day.

Fawns says that from her perspective, everything that Baker does is a form of paying it forward.

“You can’t be around Chuck for any period of time without him trying to give you something,” Fawn says. “I don’t mean just from a monetary standpoint. I mean his time, his energy. He’s just a very giving person in general.”

The grand opening on Barrel House BBQ II will happen on Thursday, April 7. After that the restaurant will open every Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Bedford County distillery.

You can learn more about Barrel House BBQ by visiting their website. You can also learn more about The Nearest Green Distillery at their website. •