As the clock strikes noon, an announcement commences over the loudspeakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, please join us in honoring our country as we do every day at noon with the singing of the national anthem.” For a moment everyone in the restaurant stands, facing the flag hanging above the center of the room, and unites under this unparalleled patriotic tradition.
Mission BBQ is focused on two things: quality barbecue and serving those who serve. The restaurant opened its first location on the ten-year anniversary of 9/11. Their website explains the meaning behind this date, “Ten years after our world changed forever, in some small way we wanted to change it back.” The chain now stretches up the East Coast, from Florida up to Maryland. I visited the Richmond location on the corner of Glenside Drive and West Broad.
The first thing you will see is the black “Bam-Bam” (bad-*** mobile barbecue assault machine) smoker truck outside the restaurant. This old military truck is outfitted with a barbecue smoker and painted all black. Mission BBQ co-founder Bill Kraus describes the vehicle as “the adult version of the ice cream truck.” The truck allows Mission BBQ to cater events with freshly smoked barbecue with a bold military flair. Walking inside reveals walls decked with pictures, newspapers, badges, and patches with which firefighters, soldiers, police officers, and other servicemen are all honored. The room provides an otherwise simple and homey feel with wood tables and chairs. Food is ordered at the front, and then you bring it to the tables, giving it a fast-casual experience similar to dining at Chipotle or Panera.
The menu offers a typical barbecue selection, with briskets, pulled pork, ribs, and other classics. Although not specifically mentioned in the menu, most meats are available either lean or moist. The lean cut is the default option, but when asked the staff will happily prepare a moist cut, which includes more fat for an added beefy flavor. Along with typical Coke fountain drinks, there is spectacular Summertime Lemonade and Kettle Brewed Iced Tea. I ordered a moist brisket sandwich with a side of fries.
My food was savory and satisfying. It was served on a metal tray covered in a sheet of paper and piled with fries. At every table there is a basket of different sauce options. I tried every one, and my favorite was the KC Classic, described by the Mission BBQ website as a “Cola-based basting of dripping deliciousness.” Henry Crowell (’16) says, “The variety of barbecue sauces provides a user experience that is fun for the whole family!” The fries are served warm and crispy, a great snack with or without added sauce. I prefer the brisket moist over lean, although both options are delicious. I also tried the jalepeño cheddar sausage, which had warm cheese infused into the meat. Everything about my food was superb and nothing short of an amazing dining experience. Harper Kelly (‘16) says, “The moist sausage and brisket were delightful!”
The service at this restaurant is truly impeccable. Every employee greets you with a smile and seems genuinely happy to be working there. This was only my third time at this location, yet I was told “Welcome back” when picking up my food. Staff walk around the dining area with trays of samples, and I received a small sample of pulled pork for free. After we had finished eating, a staff member offered to clear our trays, even though there are receptacles to clear your own trash. The staff maintain a friendly and respectful environment for customers.
The restaurant serves our heroes in many ways. Along with displaying their legacy on the walls, Mission BBQ supports many charities and local police and fire departments. They are frequent supporters of the Wounded Warrior project, to which they donated a $415,000 check on a Fox and Friends broadcast. They sell a larger “American Hero” drink option with a reusable cup for four dollars, two dollars of which is donated directly to Wounded Warrior. They donate over ten percent of their profits to charities. In the past they have offered free lunch on Veteran’s Day for all veterans and active service members.
Mission BBQ is an exceptional spot for any barbecue fan or patriotic American. Good food for a good cause is the recipe for this restaurant’s success. Be sure to show up before noon for a truly American experience.
All photos by Grant Willard.