For any barbecue joints out there that are struggling, Brett Boren has a plan for that. The owner of Brett’s Backyard Bar-B-Que in Rockdale posted a “Corona Blueprint” to his social media channels March 23. It’s the action plan he followed, and he hasn’t seen a slowdown. “We were slammed today at lunch,” he tells me Friday afternoon. He laid out his entire plan, but the overarching sentiment for his strategy is: “We’re going to be community-driven first, and customer-driven second.”

Boren says his community-first mantra means thinking about what locals in Rockdale want and need from a barbecue joint, and not so much thinking about what will draw in the out-of-town crowds. He dropped his prices by 20 percent. “I knew right off the bat that I couldn’t sell brisket for $22 a pound to the locals,” Boren explains, so he switched from Prime briskets to Choice grade. Gone were the brioche buns for his sandwiches, and sides like hash brown casserole and jalapeño cheese grits that were costly to produce. Brett’s is now focused on more cost-effective basics like pinto beans, street corn, and pulled pork. He also added a new stuffed baked potato option. “I bought forty spuds this morning at Berkshire’s. We sold forty spuds in 38 minutes,” Boren says in amazement.

There are also plenty of needs to be met in the community. Boren fed one hundred residents of a local senior center for free. Since many children in the area relied on their now closed schools for food, he bought smaller buns so he could offer a $3 barbecue sandwich for kids. This weekend, Brett’s will be giving free barbecue meals to kids along with Easter eggs full of candy.

Brett’s Backyard Bar-B-Que promises to operate with “community first” in mind.Photograph By Daniel Vaughn

More than two weeks into his strategy, Boren is no longer following some of the points on his blueprint. For example, expecting a demand for basic grocery staples, he and his staff ground a bunch of brisket and brisket trim and put it in two-pound packages of ground beef to sell to customers. It didn’t work. “We’ve sold one package,” Boren says. He’s unpacking it all so he can run a smoked meatloaf special. The deli meats he stocked weren’t selling, either, so they’ve already been donated. He bought a commercial vacuum sealer three weeks ago. “It still in the box. I haven’t even had to get it out. We’re moving product,” he says, adding that his overall sales haven’t taken a hit.

There are a few changes Boren made at the restaurant that he thinks will remain even after the pandemic subsides. “This is the new normal,” he says, so online preorders will remain. He’s also planning to integrate curbside delivery into the design of his lot. “The first thing I’m gonna do when this shit show is over is I’m gonna add a to-go curbside lane,” he promises.

“Don’t wait for people to come to you” is his message to other barbecue joint owners. Be proactive in seeking out new business and bringing in your regulars. Use social media every day to let people know you’re open. “Stop posting pictures of trays,” he adds. “Those days are over. Post really nice pictures of to-go boxes.” And Boren says that what has worked well for Brett’s is honesty with the people of Rockdale—his survival depends on their support. Every day, he asks himself: “How can I feed this community, and how can I keep this business afloat?”