Stephen Joseph aims to sell out of his barbecue every day, but earlier this week he announced that he’s looking to sell more than brisket. Joseph’s Riverport Barbecue in Jefferson, Texas is officially for sale. Joseph has weathered a devastating fire and an economic downturn to keep the doors open for over twenty years. In 2013 it was named one of Texas Monthly’s fifty best barbecue joints in the state, but the challenges continue to mount in a business where it’s already tough to make money.
Commodity prices continue to rise, especially beef. Joseph has been vocal about the spike in brisket prices and the effect on his profits. He has raised his prices in response, but his conscience keeps him from going as high as he needs. “Jefferson is a small town. I grew up here, so I know my customers. I know what kind of jobs they work and the income that they make. They’re already stretched so its hard to raise prices.”
The pits are still going and the barbecue joint will remain open until a buyer is found, and Joseph said he hasn’t fielded any serious inquiries yet. The asking price is $500,000 to turn over the keys and everything inside the building. That also includes six weeks of hands on training from Stephen Joseph.
Jefferson, Texas was once a flourishing port city, but it’s now a ways off the beaten path in East Texas. Sitting thirty minutes north of Interstate 20 and an hour south of Interstate 30, it’s not an easy detour like Marshall, Longview, or Tyler. With only 1800 residents in Jefferson, Joseph needs the tourist traffic. “Sixty-five percent of my business for the week comes on Friday through Sunday,” but he admits “it’s a long way for somebody to come.” Joseph praises his local customers, but there just aren’t enough of them to make the business viable. “It gets frustrating to cook good barbecue and just not have the numbers that I need,” Joseph laments. “It’s discouraging when you have a good product and only a hundred people come in to taste it.” His need for customers outside of Marion County made the results of the most recent city council meeting all the more frustrating.
On Tuesday, the Jefferson city council voted not to extend the lease of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce at the city owned Transportation & Visitor Center. Jefferson business owners dependent on tourism attended the meeting in a show of support for the chamber. According to a report of the meeting in the Marshall News Messenger, no reason for the vote was given by the three members who voted no. Mayor Carey Heaster, who was previously quoted supporting the chamber, declined to cast his tie-breaking vote that would have kept the chamber in town. The uncertainty of future visitors added to Joseph’s existing concerns. “I’m having a hard time understanding the direction that our city council and our mayor are trying to take with our town.” Joseph said the lack of support for the chamber was enough for him to pull the trigger on a decision he’d been mulling over for six months. “The way that boiled over, I just got fed up and put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it.”
Make no mistake, Riverport Barbecue will still be focusing on high quality barbecue. Joseph told his Twitter followers “My place is for sale but let’s get this straight, I will continue to give my customers 100% of my best effort to produce great BBQ!” His mind is made up, but Joseph, a forty-seven year resident of Jefferson is still torn about selling the business that took blood, sweat , and tears to build. “It’ll be like raising a child and then seeing it go off to school. It’s hard. It’s not something I want to do, but the circumstances are that I have to.”