Walkers and runners climbing Brady Street during the Quad-City Times Bix 7 next weekend will be greeted with a new sight — and new smells — on top of the hill.
Jonathan and Ashley McNeal, owners of McNeal’s Southern Smokehouse, plan to start grilling and serving comfort food early morning on Saturday, July 28, to feed Bix 7 spectators. They'll also have plenty of water on hand.
“We’ll have plenty to tempt people with,” Ashley McNeal said.
If passersby don’t stop for a Bix breakfast of pulled pork or ribs, she hopes they’ll be inspired to come back.
“It’ll be good publicity with all those people,” she said. “At least they’ll see us.”
McNeal's Southern Smokehouse’s location at 1218 Brady St. in Davenport has served the eatery, which primarily does carry-out business, well so far since opening in mid-May. So has the restaurant’s new paint job, complete with cartoon drawings of food and flames, and the recent addition of four yard signs with handwritten “Now Open” messages.
“There are so many cars that go by everyday,” McNeal said. “It’s a ridiculous amount.”
That’s part of why the first-time restaurateurs chose to rent the property, which is sandwiched between the Palmer College of Chiropractic and St. Ambrose University campuses.
“The super part is you have high traffic and a high density of people who live in that area as well as the colleges,” said Jeff Weindruch, a real estate agent who worked with the McNeals. “It’s a win-win-win type of situation.”
The 384-square-foot building has “a little bit of history to it,” according to Weindruch, including several stints in the realm of barbecue.
Most recently, it operated as a convenience store. In past years, it housed a fish and chicken restaurant, Big Mouthz BBQ, a coffee shop called Hot Cups and a barbecue sandwich walk-up eatery.
“It’s a good location for a mom-and-pop restaurant,” he said. “You drive by a place 6 or 7 times and you think, ‘I’ll have to go back there.’”
Opening a restaurant has long been a dream for Jonathan and Ashley McNeal, who are both in their early 30s and have been married for four years.
“We decided to go for it,” Ashley McNeal said, estimating that they put $10,000 into the business.
McNeal said her husband, who she calls a pit-master, “has always had a knack for barbecuing.”
“I got more into it seeing how much he loved it,” she said, adding that she has since mastered southern-style vegetables. "We make a good team."
Ashley McNeal said barbecue is a go-to for their blended family, which includes five children ages 1 to 13.
“We love to cook together as a family," she said. "It's fun for us."
And the same kind of food is on the menu at the restaurant that shares the family name. Appetizers range from fried pickles to breaded shrimp to catfish nuggets to pizza puffs. Meals include ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken as well as sandwiches and sides such as macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas and green bean casserole.
“It’s all of our favorite foods made fresh everyday,” Ashley McNeal, a full-time nurse, said. “There's not enough soul food in the Quad-Cities.”
Jonathan McNeal has worked at restaurants, from taco shops to pizza places, since he was a teenager. He has never worked at a barbecue place, though.
"It’s my favorite kind of food to make,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to do my own thing.”