Business at Bob's Bitchin' BBQ has been fantastic, said Bob Page, who opened the business Nov. 1 in Dodgeville.
"Without advertising, we're pretty much full all the time," he said. "It doesn't matter what day of the week it is. We probably opened at the worst time of the year, in November, and from Day 1 we've been packed."
Before opening the restaurant, Page spent about seven years running the food service operation at Lands' End.
He began by producing and bottling seven barbecue sauces, a venture he started about two years ago.
"My ultimate goal is to retire off the barbecue sauce sales by retailing it. What better way than to have people try it on barbecue?" Page said in explaining why he opened the full-service sit-down restaurant with seating for about 60.
All of his business is word of mouth, and word has gotten out, with many of his customers coming from Madison, Verona and Mount Horeb, he said. Page sees quite a few people from Dubuque and different parts of Iowa, too.
The menu is posted on the business' website. The restaurant serves all of the traditional barbecue foods: ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken.
And knowing the Lands' End customer, Page also offers non-meat items, like a vegetable melt and a homemade Southwest bean burger.
"Getting a little bit of a home-court advantage, I knew that we could have a pretty decent vegetarian crowd as well," he said.
There is also a sandwich called "The Whole Hog," a center-cut smoked pork chop with Page's original sauce, topped with pulled pork, three slices of bacon, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
"Think you've got what it takes?" the menu asks.
Page said Bob's is probably known as much for its appetizers, particularly its deep-fried cheese curds and deep-fried pickles. "Each one is hand battered and dipped individually as it goes into the fryer," he said, adding, "everything that we do is from scratch."
Bob's opens at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. It is open until 8 p.m., except for Fridays and Saturdays when it stays open until 9.
Page said that blindfolded, people can easily tell his sauces apart.
His original is a very traditional hickory smoked sauce. He does one with Spotted Cow beer called BrewBQ. "You can definitely taste the beer in it," Page said.
There is also a honey chipotle, a mustardy Carolina, a habañero, a mango red pepper and a raspberry.
All can be purchased at the restaurant. Six of the seven are available on each table. Page doesn't put the mango red pepper one out mainly because he only has room for six in the caddies.
If people want it, though, he will bring it out. There is a short description of each sauce at the tables.
Customers can order their meats wet or dry. With the wet, they caramelize it in the kitchen. With the dry, customers will taste the dry rub and experiment with the different sauces at the table.
"Dodgeville needed a place," Page said about Bob's popularity. "In fairness, we don't have a ton of competition. But the food's gotta be good to keep people coming back."
He said he recently had customers drive from Beaver Dam just for lunch because they'd heard how good it was.
"That's neat," Page said. "It makes you feel good about it, that you're doing something right."