David Segovia and Bryan and Kimmy Bingham, the trio of owners at Sunbird Barbecue in Longview, spent a long two and a half years in a food truck. They thought their plan for a brick-and-mortar would materialize quickly, but after moving eight miles west to White Oak and serving under a pseudonym in Shreveport, Louisiana, they finally opened a permanent spot in December.
In 2021, the three hatched a plan to open their own place while working at the original Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly Avenue in Longview. Three years earlier, Segovia was working for a document shredding company and answered a job ad Bryan posted for the pit room. “I didn’t even tell my wife what I was doing,” Segovia said of the brief interview process. “I was just going to check it out.” He went home that night and announced his career change, and his wife, Kay, supported it. (She now keeps the books for Sunbird in her spare time.)
Bryan preferred chicken nuggets and instant ramen before he met Kimmy. She grew up watching cooking shows when she wasn’t helping her father, Randy, on the grill. Kimmy encouraged Bryan to be more adventurous in his dining, leading him to become a professional pitmaster. Kimmy had worked for over a decade at a local hospital, but in early 2020 Bryan told her about an opening at Bodacious to make sides and desserts. “I just kept thinking about it every day as I sat miserable at my desk at the hospital,” Kimmy said. One morning, she tendered her resignation, and was working at the barbecue joint later that afternoon.
“It was actually David’s idea for us to do our own thing,” Bryan said, and in May 2021, the three of them left Bodacious. A month later, Sunbird Barbecue opened in a food truck next to a gas station north of Longview. After a falling out with their original investors, they had to decamp to Louisiana under the name Fulbright Barbecue. “We went through a brief name change because our trailer and smoker were taken and hidden at a location unknown to us by our partners until we completed our buyout,” Bryan explained. After a month-long dispute, they got a loan from the local bank and borrowed some money from Kimmy’s father to get back the trailer and the smoker. They moved to a Hyundai dealership in Longview, and continued the search for a building. “We didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” Segovia said of their financial situation at the time.
“We have been through more downs than ups since we started this,” Bryan said, but their prospects seemed to improve when they found a restaurant that had recently closed. In January 2023, they took over the lease, and assumed the new Sunbird Barbecue would open in a month or so after adding on the required enclosed pit room. The city was slow to approve their plans and allow construction to proceed. In the meantime, they moved the food truck to White Oak, where business dropped off considerably. Segovia and Bryan both found side jobs at local barbecue joints to make ends meet. Ten months later, after paying rent on a building they couldn’t use, they received the permit.
“We didn’t have a plan B,” Segovia said when I asked how the trio stayed focused on the goal through those lean years. “If you have a plan B I think it hurts you more than it does anything. When you don’t have anything to fall back on, it makes you work that much harder.” The pit room was built in three days in early October, and the restaurant opened on December 1.
I stopped in on a recent chilly Friday morning. At 10:50 a.m., I joined the eight other people standing in line. Not much has changed about the menu since the food truck days. They’re still trying to find their footing in a new building with a whole lot more customers and longer hours, but the smoky bark on the brisket is just as good as it’s ever been. The burnt ends have a pleasant, candylike chewiness. The smokiness has thankfully been toned down a bit on the sweet-glazed baby back ribs, and the house-made sausage is still juicy and well seasoned.
Bryan makes a specialty sausage that rotates regularly. I tried the poblano taco sausage with quesillo, or Oaxaca cheese, that pulled into long strings. I had enjoyed their barbecue tacos before, so this time I went for the barbecue melt sandwich. I chose pulled pork (chopped brisket and sliced turkey are also available) because last time I visited Sunbird was the day after I published a story about how embarrassing Texas-style pulled pork is. Bryan passive-aggressively offered a sample, which was pretty dang good. It was again on this visit.
For the sandwich, the cooks chop smoked onions and jalapeños into the barbecue, then move the pile to the flat top and melt two slices of American cheese on top. It’s all placed into a buttered and grilled bun. The newest version, which is dubbed the Randy to honor Kimmy’s father, has brisket and sausage chopped together with extra jalapeños. I loved the textural variation of the tender meat and the smoked vegetables, which still had some crunch. The same texture can be found in the pintos. Kimmy sautés the onions, peppers, and seasonings together before adding them to the beans. Her famous gooey mac and cheese is also available every Friday and Saturday.
The move has been a boon for Sunbird. They were at a low of four briskets and two racks of ribs cooked and served a day in White Oak last summer. They’ve more than tripled that in Longview. “Now we’re getting to enjoy the fruits of our labor a little more,” Segovia said. He no longer needs to check the restaurant’s bank account before placing next week’s food order. I wondered how the three of them didn’t quit when many others would. “It’s been lower than low and higher than high,” Segovia said, “but we all have the same end goal in mind.”