Lynchburg’s Barrel House BBQ celebrates 11 years

Barrel House BBQ’s Chuck Baker celebrated his 11 year anniversary on Saturday in Lynchburg with his staff. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

By Tabitha Evans Moore | Editor & Publisher

It’s Sunday afternoon and Barrel House BBQ founder Chuck Baker can feel the lunch rush coming.

“It’s about to get busy,” he say with a sly smile.

About 30 minutes later, there’s a line half way up to the Lynchburg Square. This happens a lot but it’s a moment that the Chuck Baker from 11 years ago could only dream about.

“I decided to build this at the lowest point in my life. I was going through a divorce. Money was tight. I needed a bigger shovel and a big change, so I thought: why not open a restaurant.”

The glass is always half full

Baker confesses that unlike many entrepreneurs and restauranters, he didn’t really go into his dream with some master plan. Instead, he used one part ingenuity and one part serendipity to arrive at a formula that not only works but is also being replicated. The original Barrel House BBQ will celebrate it’s eleventh anniversary on the very same day that Barrel House BBQ II at The Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville celebrates year one.

“Everything just sort of happened. There was no master plan,” Baker confesses. “I would come up with something and if people liked it, I’d keep doing it.”

Baker says once he truly decided to do the restaurant the right ideas and the right people kept showing up. It that’s combination of intuition and ingenuity that’s led him to build a bit of an empire in southern, middle Tennessee that now includes not only the Barrel House BBQ restaurants but also Halls Mill Market, Lucky Duck River Rental, and soon Lucky Duck Farm.

When we ask him about the biggest challenges of the past 11 years, he’s quick to reframe those challenges into blessings, which probably speaks to much of his success. It doesn’t take long to realize that Chuck Baker is a glass-half-full kind of guy.

“Somedays, when I notice a line out the door, I’ll stick my head in the kitchen and tell my staff: I think this [expletive] might just work,” he says. “I’m just really grateful to get to do something I love and get paid really well to do it.”

Building a bigger table

Baker says at this point it’s all about building a bigger table for not only his family but also his community. His daughter, Hannah Baker, and grandson, Jacob Baker – a former all star Raider baseball pitcher – now work at the restaurant with him and he fully anticipates them continuing his legacy some day. He’s also working to develop Lucky Duck Farm not far from his Hall’s Mill restaurant, which will produce locally-grown, organic produce for not only his restaurants but also others. He also plans to raise laying hens for farm-fresh eggs.

“Everything I’ve been able to build has come from this restaurant,” Baker says. “It’s not about the money. I don’t care about money but you need it to do things.”

Bakers says it’s the friendships he’s made along the way that mean the most, like with Adam Reed, a regular who used to visit from Indiana once a month. Reed past away two years ago and a photo of him now hangs permanently in the Lynchburg restaurant. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

Baker says to him that phrase from the Declaration of Independence about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” sums it up nicely.

“It’s in the pursuit that you find happiness,” he says. “It’s building a dream that’s so satisfying. I find happiness everyday in the doing and the becoming.”

Baker says that he’s met and befriended so many famous people like Nearest Green’s Fawn and Keith Weaver and barbecue celebrities like Tuffy Stone but his fondest memories from the past 11 years revolve around the regular people he’s met from the around the globe that he now considers friends.

One of those was Todd Reed from Kokomo, Indiana.

“He worked seven days and then had seven days off. He drove from Kokomo about twice a month to come eat barbecue here,” Baker says. “He loved Lynchburg. He was a Jack Daniel’s collector. We became good friends. This place has allowed me to build a ton of friendships like that. I’ve got friends all over the world because of this little spot right here.”

Reed died a little over two years ago and a photo of him now hangs inside Barrel House BBQ in memoriam.

Southern Serendipity

The concept of serendipity comes up during our interview with Baker time and time again. Looking back, he can see how everything is connected.

“I worked my first job for Ed McGee on the Dan Call farm hauling hay. Fast forward many years later, and I would meet and become good friend with Fawn and Keith Weaver who not only bought the farm but turned Nearest Green’s legacy into a distillery that bears his name,” Baker says. “If you’ve ever watched the Nearest Green video that features Jeffery Wright, you’ll notice a field in the beginning where he’s walking toward the house, that’s the spot I picked my very first bale of hay for Ed McGee at the age of eight. It gives me chills thinking about it. It’s like it was meant to be.”

In true always-striving entrepreneur fashion, Baker says he plans to add some interesting things to the original Barrel House BBQ over the summer. He will build additional patio seating outside and stay open later through the summer. He’s also working on some additions to the traditional menu that will be offered only on Friday and Saturday nights. Another new-to-Lynchburg idea will be the addition of corn hole tournaments nights and bringing back more live music.

Like milking cows but worse.”

When we ask Baker what it takes to succeed in the restaurant industry, he’s quick to answer.

“You’ve got to have a good work ethic. You can’t be lazy. It needs your attention everyday. It’s like milking cows but worse. I’ve milked cows morning and night, I know what I’m talking about.”

Baker used to arrive at his smokehouse each morning before the sun came up to ensure that all the pork in his restaurant was “smoked in-house daily.” These days, he’s got Jacob to help with that.

Baker says he never felt nervous about the meat-cooking side of his business but creating his signature sauce felt intimidating.

“I bought my sauce for the first three months, and then one night, I tried to re-order and the manufacturer – who was a friend of mine – told me he couldn’t fill it.”

Baker says you can’t run a barbecue restaurant without sauce and so he got in the test kitchen and started concocting.

“I went to the store and bought all the ingredients for this Hawaiian barbecue sauce recipe that I found in an old cookbook,” Baker says. “I kept taking things out and adding other things in. Every time I’d add something, I’d taste it and adjust. I made a five gallon batch and let friends taste. We all agreed that that’s was the one. It’s now the base for all our other barbecue sauces.”

In the end, Baker celebrated year number 11 in a low key way. He worked at Barrel House BBQ during the day and then heading to The Nearest Green Distillery to celebrate there. He planned to celebrate that night with staff, family, and close friend. To him, he says the overarching theme of the day is gratitude. •

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}.