Pat Martin went to college for finance and worked in the sector in part because his father was a bond trader, but he says one love from his youth never left him: barbecue.
Martin, founder of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint — which will open a new location in the coming weeks at the old Lynn’s Paradise Cafe spot on Barret Avenue — remembers his family grilling in old-fashioned ways, in grill pits. No gas grills allowed — the fire was ignited with a chimney starter.
It was a ritual. It was Memphis.
Sometime during his childhood, Martin says, his dad asked him to light the fire for the first time.
“I still remember the feeling today,” he says, sitting in the 984 Barret location, amid hundreds of signs, posters, photos and more that soon will adorn the walls. “So I really got into the romanticism of it.”
The family moved to Mississippi for a time, but the grilling continued. Martin bought a couple of books on grilling when he was a freshman in high school, and it became a hobby. He procured a book called “The Thrill of the Grill” and learned the finer points.
“I grilled everything in the book,” he says, “and I screwed all of it up, probably.”
After high school, he went to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., and his first week there, he stopped at a local barbecue place to get a pulled pork sandwich. The owner, a man named Harold Webb, turned, opened a smoker lid, and there Martin saw a whole hog smoking for the first time.
“Right then, I thought, ‘I have got to learn how to do this,’ ” Martin says, so he made himself a regular, learning the ropes from “Mr. Harold.”
He later flunked out of college, then ended up in Chicago in finance, where he planned to make a living in stocks, with the thought of opening a barbecue joint being his “end game” plan later in life.
But that career wasn’t what he wanted, so he went into business for himself doing grading and sodding for new subdivision developments. When a crash destroyed thousands of dollars in equipment, he decided he’d had enough of that five-year venture.
Shortly after this crash, he showed up at 11:05 a.m. to a Mexican restaurant in Nolensville, Tenn., wanting food. It was closed. Frustrated, Martin talked to a mechanic working next door, who happened to be the owner of the building. The owner had evicted the former tenant and was looking for someone else to take over the restaurant space.
“I’ll take it,” Martin told him, so he got a collateral line of credit for $65,000 and built the first Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint.
The style of barbecue Martin features in his brand is west Tennessee whole hog — in other words, whole pigs, slow-roasted over wood and coal. And at Martin’s, when the barbecue is gone, it’s gone.
The staff comes in at 6 a.m., Martin says, the meat is smoked, the sides prepped, and they sell it until it’s gone. Sure, you can get brisket, pulled pork, ribs and more, but whole hog is the focus.
The first Louisville Martin’s opened in late 2016 in Indian Springs, but the old Lynn’s location has been in the works for longer.
“We’ve been kicking the tires on this place for close to four years,” he says.
Martin initially found the location and reached out to the owner Lynn Winter. She wasn’t biting. But she relented and sold it to Martin and his business partner, Josh Bleidt.
He didn’t want to try opening two stores at once, so the Barret Avenue spot sat idle, even as the neighborhood businesses and residents wondered when, or if, another restaurant would open there.
Several people reached out to ask him about the space, what it would be and when it would open, Martin says, which was a surprise to him. He assures that it will be a neighborhood space made for gathering, watching a game and hanging out with friends.
There will be nods to Lynn’s in the design, but for the most part, the place has been gutted and rebuilt. The quirky colors and décor have been replaced by a more masculine wood environment, upon which the array of signage will be placed.
One aspect that will remain, he says, are the chandeliers in the women’s room. And the original Lynn’s sign will be prominently displayed in homage. Otherwise, it will be a barbecue joint, through and through.
“I think the most foolish thing somebody could do is come into a place like Lynn’s and try to leverage that,” Martin says. “At the same time, I don’t want to come in and bastardize my brand. It’s a new brand in an old place. There will be kind of an homage or a nod to Lynn’s, definitely, but it’s very much Martin’s Bar-B-Cue.”
The hog pits will be in a screened-in porch area behind an outdoor bar, where the meat will smoke for 24 hours. Inside is another bar, plus table service.
If you’ve been to the Martin’s in Indian Springs, you already have a good idea what the Barret Avenue location will look like inside. Accents like the concrete animals and trees and such are gone. But expect some good smells to waft through the neighborhood from that in-view pit.
“I like putting what we do in the face of the customer,” Martin says. “We work really hard. We do it the right way, and, frankly, we want credit for what we put into it. I want them to see the authenticity we put into the thing.”
It’s a long way from finance and sodding, but Martin finds himself on the right path these days, with the former Lynn’s location being the seventh Martin’s to open over the past decade. Apparently, the barbecue bug bites and never lets go.
Being from Memphis, he says, “Barbecue, I guess, was genetically in my DNA.”