Joel Gallegos is not afraid of hard work or adventure. He started out bussing tables around the age of 13 and now is the owner of two successful barbeque restaurant locations.
As a high school student, he dated a girl whose father traveled with the barbecue circuit team Rib America. “I was just one of the grunt workers he hired — and fired when we broke up.”
But that work sparked the love of barbecue in him and another team, Chicago BBQ, invited him to join them on the circuit.
He met his wife Katy in Alaska where his last Air Force duty station was located. Her father was from Yellville and they loved visiting Arkansas.
“I knew after traveling the world, when we started a family, we would want to move somewhere safe — like Yellville,” he said. They made the decision to move to Yellville about 11 years ago and he started rehabbing houses.
When the Turkey Trot festival rolled around, he asked to borrow the Arvest Bank smoker and smoked some meat to supplement their income. His friends and mentors on the barbecue circuit had given him advice for his rubs and sauces.
“I had some gray-haired men mentor me, share their tips and tricks and I learned the difference in woods to smoke with. There is a difference in cold wood, hot wood, winter wood and things I never thought about. They helped me perfect my own recipe for sauce and rubs and I learned a lot,” he said. “One of the guys used to cook barbecue for the late President George H.W. Bush.”
With barbecue in his blood, and the festival a success, he got a small loan and purchased a used food truck. He parked it on the corner of Highways 65, 412 and 14 and quit his job. “That’s how we got started.”
“I had been a dishwasher, cook, prep, saute guy, bus boy, server, bartender and barback and made it to general manager of an Italian restaurant in Alaska. But the owner told me I still had a lot to learn,” he smiled. “And I did.”
He recalls fondly that they survived that first winter because of the ice storm.
“We never lost power on that corner. I really believe it was a Godsend. We fed more people than I could ever imagine. It was such a blessing in disguise. We established ourselves, got our name out and people really had no choice but to buy food from us to feed their family.”
After that success and customers wanting a restaurant location, he moved the business to the back side of the square and almost went under because they left the strip.
“People would see me at the grocery store and tell me they had forgotten we opened a restaurant. I sold trucks, boats, rent houses, and did everything I could do to hang on to the business. My goal was to always provide jobs for people in our area. The Dairy Inn closed down, Sonic same in. I put an offer in and immediately started gutting a building to be in a visible location. The day we opened we were swamped again.”
The Gallegos have a heart for staff members who need a hand up. They have adopted some kids and are a host family for juvenile services. “Now we’ve seen former employees graduate from college and come back to eat with us.”
The Yellville location has been remodeled and revamped a couple of times. “That location is more of a ministry for us and provides a safe place for single moms and dads to work,” he said.
“Yellville is our staple, but I’ve always wanted to expand, or go back on the rib team circuit,” he admitted. “The Harrison location landed in my lap and we decided to go for it. Harrison has a lot of industry and the other barbecue locations are completely across town. I’m here to create my own clientele not steal their customers,” he said.
Both Joel and Katy have backgrounds in health and fitness, so they offer some Keto options, healthy wraps and a salad bar. “We are a barbecue joint, but we also offer Mississippi farm-raised catfish and burgers.”
Kitchen manager, Patrick Atwell said, “I spent a lot of years working in fast food and working here is a breath of fresh air. I haven’t tasted anything I didn’t enjoy.”
“We love this area, and have a very committed staff,” Gallegos said. “We got the High School art club to help us with some signage. I enjoy staying in tune with kids.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how Harrison has been so open for us,” Gallegos said. “I’m not on social media, but my staff tells me we get good reviews. But I also know when you serve a 1,000 people a month, you’re going to get a negative comment here and there. But it’s a fun journey.”
“I can take criticism and suggestions,” he said. “When some of our customers wanted a plate, instead of serving family style, we went out and purchased some plates.”
RazorBack Ribs expanded from the Yellville location to Harrison at the former Miguel’s Mexican Food location in the Younes Shopping Center at 1517 N. Main Street. Meat is smoked daily with a smoker on site. Hours are Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the phone number is (870) 741-7427.