I rented an apartment a couple blocks away from one of their locations in the Forest Park neighborhood, and they pumped out the smell of sizzling pork all over the region with giant fans in their smoker.
That might sound like a good thing, but I’m a slave to barbecue, and the smell of hogs cooking over wood fires left me in a perpetual state of hunger no matter how much or how often I ate. Jim n Nick’s put out tolerable barbecue but more often than not I’d motor over to Johnny Ray’s [superior] Barbecue in the Homewood neighborhood.
Back then, Jim n Nick’s had 2 or 3 locations in town, and were far from the dominant chain they’ve since grown to become. That dominance, with its attendant multiple locations scattered across the South, makes their new mission of sustainability incredible.
The details: The state of Alabama spent $650,000 to upgrade a defunct meat processing facility in the town of Eva, and Nick Pihakis, owner of Jim n Nick’s, signed a contract to utilize the facility as an exclusive pork processing plant for the chain’s meat needs.
That’s not news in and of itself, it’s how they’re going about it that makes the story interesting.
Nick Pihakis has recruited hog farmers to provide him with exclusive purchasing rights of the meat that they raise. And it’s not just any meat. The farmers will be raising pigs that are a cross between Mangalitsa and Berkshire. These are two highly prized breeds that are know for their deliciousness.
Pihakis will be walking down a long road with this project. He currently only has 5 farmers, and seventy five hogs but through judicious breeding programs, this will increase exponentially. Pigs can birth a couple litters a year, and each litter can contain multiple piglets so one imagines that within 5-10 years, Jim n Nick’s will be able to produce hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds of meat annually for their chain.
More importantly, this won’t be the feed-lot meat that 99% of other barbecue restaurants are using. These animals will be raised on verdant Alabama soil, drinking Alabama rain water, and basking in the sweet summer sunshine that seems to glow a little bit brighter when you’re deep in the heart of Dixie.
Nice work Nick Pihakis, next time I’m in Alabama I might just give up a visit to Archibald’s down in Northport, and visit one of your restaurants instead. I’m impressed.