BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Jim 'N Nick's, the Birmingham-based barbecue chain, is getting into the hog business -- literally.
The chain co-founded in 1985 by Jim Pihakis and his son, Nick Pihakis, in mid-July is opening a pork processing facility in Eva, 60 miles north of Birmingham. The plant will process hogs raised by farmers Jim 'N Nick's is recruiting as partners, said Nick Pihakis, who has run the company since his father passed in 2000.
Within five years, Pihakis hopes to have 40 farms raising 400 hogs a year, a heritage breed for barbecue that is a cross between the popular Berkshire pig and the Mangalitsa, a wooly breed. So far, he has recruited five farmers and has 75 hogs.
"They produce about eight to 10 pigs twice a year so our numbers will grow," Pihakis said in an interview. "Our idea is to contract farmers to raise the hogs. It will give farmers needed work and provide a valuable service for us."
Pihakis said having their own pork processing facility will lead to substantial savings for Jim N Nick's, which serves about 4 million pounds of pork a year. The chain now has 30 barbecue restaurants across the Southeast, including new locations opening in Tuscaloosa and Charlotte by the end of May. A Jim 'N Nick's will open in Nashville in September, and will be that city's fourth.
Pihakis said the pork processing facility fulfills a goal he set seven years ago, but had to abandon as he was unable to recruit pig farmers. He revitalized the effort after finding out about an abandoned processing plant in Eva last year.
The plant in Morgan County has been empty since a farmer's plan to raise and sell emu meat at the site fell through, Pihakis said. The state gave Morgan County a $650,000 grant to redo the facility, and Pihakis inked a deal to turn it into Jim 'N Nick's pork processing plant.
Pihakis said his goal is to provide Jim 'N Nick's customers a better product by being able to process its own meat. When the plant is operational, Pihakis said his restaurants will stop having to order shoulders, hams and other pork items from suppliers and be able to use the whole animal grown by its farmer partners.
Pihakis said Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Que has a policy of making all menu items daily from scratch and the new plant will give the chain more quality control.
Jack Taylor, the Bruno Professor of Retailing at Birmingham-Southern College, said Jim 'N Nick's decision to open its own pork processing plant is a good move.
"Not only will they save on costs, but they will have more control over delivery, supply, but also over food quality," Taylor said. "It also may open up another revenue stream for them to sell meat to other restaurants."
Pihakis, who this spring opened a Mexican restaurant called Little Donkey in Homewood, said Jim 'N Nick's is planning on making pork available to other venues.
"My hope is that this will allow us to help put people on farms back to work raising hogs for us and support local farms and other restaurants," he said. "This is a five-year process. We are excited about how it is going so far."