Like many barbecue entrepreneurs before them, Nolan and Emily Belcher opened a food truck and felt compelled to close it months later. But they put the brakes on their business, B4 Barbeque & Boba in Mabank, an hour southeast of Dallas, because it was too successful.
The whole point of opening the food truck was to get Nolan off the road. He was gone from their Fort Worth home driving a big rig all week, seeing his wife, Emily, and their two kids only on the weekends. Emily’s idea for a life change came after she found a house with ten acres in Mabank. They moved, and Nolan quit his job and pursued his barbecue passion with the food truck starting last November. It was popular from the start, and they sold out every day for three months. The two of them served as quickly as they could, while lines of forty or more would gather outside the truck’s window. “We couldn’t get any help, and it was just her and I,” Nolan said. They realized all their family time was spent at the food truck, and Nolan said, “That’s not the life we wanted for our kids.” They announced the closure in February.
Nolan fell back on cutting hair (he obtained his barber’s license when he left the military fourteen years ago); Emily sold the cakes she had been baking for the food truck; and they sold the eggs from the fifty chickens on their small farm (they also have four cows and eleven goats). Local fans, including Kevin Carter, missed their barbecue. He owned the Mabank Feed & Southern Glitz Boutique and happened to have some indoor space available adjacent to the store. Carter and the Belchers worked together to find a few employees willing to come on board if they reopened. The Belchers sold the truck to fund the new venture. A few firefighters Nolan volunteered with at the Mabank Fire Department offered to help with the renovation. Nolan said the city was helpful with the permits, and they were back open serving barbecue in April.
There’s no sign up yet for B4 Barbeque & Boba, so look for the Mabank Feed store. Walk in the front door and head left through the wooden barn doors to where the serving line begins. There’s plenty of seating available on picnic tables inside. Around the side of the building you’ll find a collection of smokers, including the red 250-gallon one they started with, and the new 1,000-gallon Austin Smoke Works smoker they just bought from the recently closed Treviño’s Craft Smokehouse. The Belchers have one payment left on it and then they’ll start saving for sausage-making equipment. They put a nice snap on the Akaushi (a breed of Wagyu cattle) beef sausages they get from Syracuse Sausage in Ponder, but it’s the only thing on the menu that’s not homemade.
The day I visited, the briskets were also Wagyu beef. Rosewood Ranch is just thirty minutes west of the restaurant, and ranch manager Kenneth Braddock is a big fan of B4 Barbeque. He suggested the Belchers try smoking his Wagyu briskets ($28 per pound), and they’ve been cooking them off and on ever since, depending on availability. The thick slices on my tray were tender, if a bit overcooked, but the clean flavor of the smoke, buttery fat, and well-developed bark were commendable. The smoke flavor came through on the flavorful slices of turkey breast too. Nolan says the rub he uses on just about everything, including the brisket, has sixteen ingredients, one of them being sugar.
There’s a lot of sugar on the pork belly burnt ends, and that’s on purpose. Nolan sees them as a protein-heavy version of peach cobbler, which is why they’re referred to as Meat Candy on the menu. They’re glazed with peach jam and topped with crumbled shortbread cookies. Each cube was perfectly tender inside, and pleasantly chewy on the edges. Nolan dabbled in competition barbecue, and it shows in his spare ribs. They’re smoked, then topped with a thick glaze whose sweetness reminded me of being at the judge’s table. You could still taste the smoke beneath it, and the spares were plenty tender.
The Belchers say they produce barbecue the old-school way but with an added twist. That’s evident in the items mentioned above, and in the Texas Twinkies, which are dead ringers for the original version at Hutchins BBQ in McKinney. But that’s a good thing. The jalapeños stuffed with brisket and cream cheese are wrapped with thinly sliced bacon. They get crisp while smoking and are brushed with a sweet sauce to finish. They have some burn, so cool them off by dipping them into the house-made ranch dressing served on the side.
The brisket mac and cheese comes with a garnish of chopped beef on top as well as mixed in. The rice and beans come separately, but you should ask for them served together in one dish. The unexpected basmati rice soaked up the pinto bean broth, which has sausage, chiles, and tomatoes mixed in, as well as a garnish of cotija cheese, cilantro, and raw jalapeño. The same topping appears on the charred corn of the elote. A variety of desserts were on offer, but I preferred the sopaipilla cheesecake bites, drizzled with chocolate sauce, over the strawberry tres leches cake.
Their interest in putting a twist on everything is how the business ended up with “and Boba” in the name. When they lived in Fort Worth, the Belchers’ kids loved the boba tea from Boba Tea House. For the uninitiated, boba drinks feature small, chewy black orbs of tapioca, which are sucked up through a thick straw. As they made plans for the barbecue joint, they wanted to offer something extra like coffee or smoothies to set them apart. Their sons suggested boba tea, which is why they’re the first and only place offering the Taiwanese drink in Mabank. I got the blended, iced version, which was a refreshing milk tea slush.
The new restaurant and the team the Belchers built has made it easier for them to spend more time together off the clock, but the location still has its challenges. “We’re craft barbecue in the middle of nowhere inside of a feed store,” Nolan quipped. The quality of barbecue they’re serving at B4 is impressive, even more so when you take into account that neither Nolan nor Emily had any restaurant experience when they first opened their truck last year. That naiveté is likely why they initially thought a food truck business would allow for more family time. Thankfully for the folks in Mabank, the Belchers are having an easier go of it on the second try.