Two years ago Maegan and De'Andre Jackson took a leap of faith and opened Winners BBQ in east Plano. They had shared the dream of opening up a BBQ joint since college, where they met as students at Iowa State. De'Andre grew up cooking barbecue, his dad was a backyard pitmaster who cooked for the neighborhood, then got into catering and eventually opened a restaurant.
Growing up in Garland, De'Andre was an All Big 12 defensive back for the Cyclones with aspirations to play in the NFL. Maegan would become a high school teacher and De'Andre would play in the CFL and for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. After a second torn ACL ended his football career, they settled in Garland and became teachers.
In 2015 the Jacksons decided to join the growing DFW barbecue scene. They had meticulously researched the business for a year before making their move, visiting successful restaurants to see what made them work on all levels. During this time, Maegan says they were "perfecting their craft" and wanted to be sure there was room for them in the rapidly expanding north Texas BBQ market. When the time was right, De'Andre left his junior high teaching and coaching position to become a full-time pitmaster. Maegan kept teaching for a year, just in case.
Some friends were concerned when they opened in a former Mexican food restaurant in east Plano, in the backyard of Lockhart Smokehouse's second location which opened in early 2014. They soon found out there were plenty of customers to go around and their business began to grow a loyal following. One year in, Maegan also left her teaching job to devote her full attention to their restaurant.
Talking to customers, they realized people were driving 40 miles from the southern Dallas suburbs to far-north Plano just to eat at Winners. People were begging them to open in Cedar Hill or Duncanville, a ripe market for a strong BBQ joint. On the two-year anniversary of starting in Plano, they opened their second location the first weekend of April 2017 in a former bar and BBQ joint in Cedar Hill.
Based off the crowd I saw when they opened for their fourth week of business in Cedar Hill, the Jacksons made a great location decision. The customers kept coming and the line was full, but their setup of two meat cutters helped move customers at a good clip. They are already cooking 30 briskets and over 100 racks of ribs daily for this location. Thanks to aggressive social media, Maegan says business has been good since the first day they opened. I talked with numerous customers at the Plano location last week, they have a very devoted following there as well.
All about the meat
Posse member Jim Rossman made the first visit to Plano earlier this year and gave Winners two thumbs up. Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper and I followed up several weeks later and were similarly impressed. The meats were pecan-smokey and tender, the homemade sides were fresh and impressive, a point of pride for Maegan, that's her department based off family recipes. We love their choice of meaty baby back ribs over spares, most joints these days serve the cheaper spare ribs or spares cut into St. Louis-style ribs.
Their prices brought a smile to my face as well. The two-meat plate with two sides and a drink was $14 and the weekday lunch special of a sandwich, two sides and a drink was a little over $10. They also offer the Cyclone sandwich, featuring three meats of your choice for $10, that could be a great way to try a sampling of their meats at a good price. Also, sliced brisket is currently $16 a pound, a very good price in today's BBQ market.
The lede of this story could have been a cliche sentence on how a former football star and his wife are becoming "Winners" in the BBQ business. Oddly enough, several weeks ago we met and wrote about former University of Texas & NFL defensive back Cedric Griffin and his new Austin BBQ joint J. Leonardi's. I asked De'Andre if he and Griffin ever crossed paths, bringing a smile to his face. They never played each other, but as a college defensive back he studied tapes of Griffin as he worked to perfect his game. He considered Griffin as one of the best in the game.
De'Andre summed up the connection between BBQ and football, seeing numerous similarities.
"BBQ is parallel to sports, every day there are sudden changes and you must adapt," he said, comparing shifting defensive schemes as the play is being called to changing your cook plan on the fly when needed.
I asked the Jacksons if they had any advice for someone thinking about opening a BBQ joint. Maegan said the learning curve of running a successful business was the biggest challenge.
"It's a huge commitment, this can't just be a hobby. A lot of people know how to cook, but business side is the hard part. "
De'Andre adds, "You've got to be willing to make sacrifices. Take pride in what you do."
Winners BBQ-Plano, 3200 14th St, Plano, (972) 424-2400. Open Tues-Thurs 11am-3pm, Fri-Sat 11am-8pm, Sun 12pm-6pm or until the meat runs out (same for all closing times) Website: http://www.winnersbbq.com
Winners BBQ-Cedar Hill, 1435 US-67, Cedar Hill, (972) 293-5899. Open Fri-Sun noon-6pm or until the meat runs out.