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Ole Miss grad back home, in business with The Shed

OCEAN SPRINGS — Normally people go from the country to the city to eat out. But in the case of The Shed Barbeque, people are coming from the city to the country to eat out.

And in this case, we are talking “out” as in outside. Picnic tables surround the popular eating place, with most folks opting to eat outdoors. Even inside the Shed there are large windows with a view to the outside. Previously it was open air, but air conditioning was added to make it more comfortable for patrons.

The Shed Barbeque was literally started in a shed-like building by University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) graduate Brad Orrison next to his parent‘s Camp Journey’s End on Highway 57 just north of Interstate 10.

“We started The Shed on a shoestring budget — without the shoestring,” Orrison said.

Orrison learned a lot at Ole Miss that helped him launch the successful business. But while his degree in marketing gave him a leg up, off-campus experiences also had a lot to do with his formula for success.

After graduating and working as a small business consultant for a while — a job that didn’t suit him — Orrison decided to open a restaurant. But he wasn’t sure what kind. He says he settled on barbeque partly because there are so many good barbeque places in Oxford — and few on the Coast.

Another popular component of The Shed sparked by his college experience is that every Saturday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. a different blues performer — usually from New Orleans — takes to the outdoor stage at The Shed. Orrison enjoyed blues music so much at Ole Miss that he decided it would be a good fit with his restaurant.

Orrison refers to the three B’s of success at the establishment: barbeque, blues and beer.

It is the atmosphere — not just good food — that makes the Shed so successful.

“It is not just getting fed at The Shed,” Orrison said. “It is an experience. From the time you come in the door you feel like you are on a bayou somewhere or in a Third World country.”

The Shed Barbeque is the perfect place for families with children. Instead of having to be quiet and sit still — which rarely works anyhow — after eating the kids can run over to play on the playground, allowing adults to have a meal in peace while keeping a watchful eye on their offspring.

“We call it our family-food-drinkery,” said Orrison, who was known to get in trouble at Ole Miss for wearing his roller blades inside buildings. “We have a playground outside for the kids. We are located next to a campground that my parents have owned for 20 years, so we have plenty of outside activities. Parents can come in, sit down, relax, have a beer if they would like, and the kids can run around. The family atmosphere is really a major pull for us.”

One advantage for non-smokers is, unlike other clubs offering live music on the Coast, you can listen to the music without being exposed to copious quantities of secondhand cigarette smoke.

The inside decor of The Shed comes from another of Orrison’s hobbies at Ole Miss: “dumpster diving.” The corrugated tin and rough-cut wood siding building is decorated with an eclectic, fun mix of items such as old license plates and chandeliers that have been recycled.

The Shed has become a local gathering spot. It is so popular that it even has a following of people called Shed Heads. Some are willing to donate labor for barbeque, and have helped add on to The Shed as it has grown in popularity. There have already been seven additions to The Shed, and business in 2002 was up nearly 50% over the previous year. Currently The Shed serves about 2,500 plates of barbeque per week representing one to 1.5 tons of meat.

Orrison gives a lot of credit to his family members. His younger sister Brooke, then 19, quit her summer job to help him build the original 330-square-foot Shed. She provided “a lot of help and inspiration,” thereby earning herself a position as business manager and partner in the company. Brooke is a junior at USM Gulf Coast.

“She has been a lifesaver,” said Orrison, who describes himself and his sister as “fourth generation entrepreneurs.”

Part of the recipe for success is the KISS (keep it simple stupid) technique.

“The first thing we kept simple is our menu,” Orrison said. “We have good food and a small menu. What we do, we do right consistently. We don’t try to provide 100 items on the menu. We have only 18 items on the menu. That keeps our kitchen in order.”

There are good synergies being located next to their parent’s campground business. The campground feeds business to the restaurant. People staying from all over the country have ended up walking over to The Shed, and enjoyed the dining experience so much that they tell others about it.

Now the restaurant is feeding business to the campground.

“It turns out now people are stopping to stay here because of The Shed,” Orrison said. “People will say, ‘Oh, I heard about you at a campground in Maine.’ They will stop here deliberately just so they can eat here.”

Word about The Shed will get around even more now that the National Barbeque News, the largest barbeque publication in the U.S., has decided to feature The Shed on the cover of its magazine. The National Barbeque News came to visit — without identifying themselves so they would get the same treatment as any customer — to taste what The Shed has to offer. They must have been pleased because The Shed has been inducted in the Best of the Best Barbeque Restaurants in North America, the top 50 barbeque restaurants in the U.S.

“We are getting some national recognition, which is just great,” Orrison said.

A few days prior to opening Aug. 6, 2001, a local man named Robert

“Poppa Jack” Jackson came in with a barbeque sauce recipe that was to become The Shed’s trademark.

“All Poppa Jack wanted was to have his sauce in a restaurant,” Orrison said.

Poppa Jack enjoyed seeing his dream of having people eat it at a restaurant come true. But he wanted the recipe kept confidential. On May 29, 2002, only one day after he had Orrison commit the recipe to memory and destroy all tangible copies, Poppa Jack passed away. The Shed was closed for his funeral service that Tuesday, and has remained closed every Tuesday since in his honor. The restaurant is also closed on Mondays.

Orrison said he learned a lot from his courses at Ole Miss, particularly from the entrepreneurial standpoint. But his mother, Linda, who was the professional clown Teardrop for 10 years, handles all the marketing. Other family members also have a hand in the business. The Orrisons’ father, Craig, contributed the recipe for The Shed’s coleslaw, and their grandmother Nita “G-Maw” Root, contributed the recipe for the baked beans. She tends her own bar outside of The Shed. A brother, Brett, books the musical acts.

“It’s a family-run show,” Brooke said.

The Shed Barbeque is open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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