Brisket may dominate barbecue menus in Texas today, but nearly a century ago, a Dallas institution built its mighty restaurant empire on a simple Tennessee-style barbecued-pork sandwich: the “Pig Sandwich.” Perhaps some already know that I’m referring to the signature item served at the Pig Stand, a Dallas-based chain that formed in the twenties and quickly grew into a nationwide franchise.
And when I say quickly, that’s no exaggeration. According to an advertisement from 1924— when the Pig Stands Co. was only 30 months old—50,000 sandwiches were sold each week from just the ten Dallas locations (there were Pig Stands in six other states by then too). That’s a mighty impressive number for such a young company.
The Pig Stand’s history captured my attention long ago, mostly because of its much-ballyhooed legacy as the first drive-in. This sounded like a big claim to stake, and I wanted to know what happened to the restaurant chain that could not only sell 50,000 sandwiches a week in Dallas when the city only had about 250,000 residents but also invented the concept of the drive-in. After some digging, I found that there was no significant event that led to the eventual shuttering of the last Pig Stands in 2006. In fact, I discovered, despite rapid expansion and the public’s cultish obsession with the place, the franchise went quietly into the night, not with a squeal, but rather with a prolonged whimper that dragged out over decades.
Even though this isn’t an uncommon problem with restaurants, the history of the Pig Stand’s fast-rising and slow-falling star was enthralling nonetheless. It started in 1921* when Jesse G. Kirby opened the first Pig Stand on the southwest corner of Fort Worth Pike Road and Chalk Hill Road. This was beyond the outskirts of town back then, and, following the credo of “location, location, location,” Kirby opened his second Pig Stand near the center of town—Zang and Bishop, now known as Colorado Boulevard, to be exact. By September of 1923 he had sold the original location and, with his business partner Dr. Reuben Jackson, set sights on expansion in Dallas—and beyond.
Credit is often given to Kirby for creating the first drive-in restaurant. And rightly so, if, for anything, the fact that the concept of carhops was first introduced at the original Pig Stand. There are plenty of other firsts attributed to them too: the first onion ring, the first chicken-fried steak sandwich, Texas toast, neon lights. Some of those claims might be hard to prove, but they all serve as anecdotal evidence of Kirby and Jackson’s innovativeness.
But it’s a different kind of pioneering they should get credit for but often don’t: Kirby and Jackson may have been the first people to invent the restaurant chain as we know it today. Howard Johnson restaurants are generally attributed with developing the concept of franchise restaurants. But consider this. The second Howard Johnson was a franchise location when it opened in 1932; by that time there were already more a hundred Pig Stands, and the company had been offering franchises to hopeful entrepreneurs since 1925. As Kirby once cleverly told someone of opening a franchise, “Give a little pig a chance, and it will make a hog of itself.”
In 1926, just a few short years after the Pig Stand started, the company lost its founder. Kirby became ill on a train ride to St. Louis in April and died suddenly from pneumonia. He left a wife, Shirley, and two sons, both of whom would go on to become restaurateurs.
After Kirby’s death, Shirley continued operating the Pig Stand company with his partner, Jackson. Under their guidance, the brand got so popular that copycats began to appear. The company took out an ad in 1927 ad that read “Imitation Pig Stands are springing up like mushrooms all over Dallas.” They would unsuccessfully sue one of them, the Dixiepig Stand, whose specialty was a “Dixiepig Sandwich.” (Another Dixie Pig exists in Abilene, Texas. They have a “Pig Sandwich” on the menu, but with roasted pork and barbecue sauce, it’s not one that Jesse Kirby would recognize. It’s missing the “sour relish which gives zest to the Pig Sandwich.”)
After the company lost its battle in court, other copycats used the legal precedent to cash in on the pig stand fever. Among those were Van’s Pig Stands in Wewoka, OK (1928); Ju-Cy Pig Stand in Denton (1932); Bob’s Pig Shop in Pauls Valley, OK (1933); Flying Pig Stand in Denison (1937); and Pearl’s Pig Stand in Jefferson (1939).
The company couldn’t fight back with the law, so it would, ahem, stand out, so to speak, by design. The company created a signature building and layout for its restaurants, one that would be easily recognizable to motorists. The Pig Stands Co. hired architect F. J. Woerner, the man who designed the Stoneleigh Hotel in Dallas, to be in charge of the company’s new branding. The prototype was built on the site of Pig Stand #2 before being rolled out to other cities and states.
During the Depression, the Pig Stand expansion came to a halt and the chain retreated back to its Texas locations. This didn’t stop them from implementing big ideas. During the thirties and early forties, they introduced 24-hour service and new menu items like “chicken in the rough,”—basically a fried half chicken—tamales, enchiladas, and “hamburger steak with creole sauce.”
After World War II was over and the country was booming again, the Pig Stand opted not to expand. In fact, it seemed new ideas were the order of the day. B J Kirby, who was just three when his father, Jesse, passed away, had been working at Pig Stand #4 on Greenville Avenue in Dallas since he was eleven. By the time he turned 24, he had taken over the store from his mother and ran it successfully. And as all good businessmen do, BJ decided to build on that success. In 1954, when Highway 75 replaced Greenville Avenue as the main thoroughfare, BJ took a week off and reopened the Greenville Pig Stand as Kirby’s Charcoal Steaks. He ran that before selling it to the group that now runs the Kirby’s Steakhouse chain in Texas.
But it wasn’t all roses for the Pig Stands. Competition was encroaching. By the mid-fifties, America had entered a new era of drive-ins. Sonic, which opened in Oklahoma in 1953, offered an even-more expedient experience. Customers placed orders into speaker boxes, and food was quickly ushered out to be consumed on premises or taken out. Drive-in restaurants became more functional places than weekend hangouts.
Co-founder and company visionary Dr. Reuben Jackson passed away in 1955, and former carhop Royce Hailey took over soon after. At the fortieth anniversary in 1961, 23 restaurants were on the company roster, all of them in Texas.
Video with Richard Hailey at Pig Stand #29 in San Antonio
From there it was a drawn-out decline. Hailey converted some of the locations to a new Rockeyfeller Burger concept before handing the reins to his son Richard in 1983. Two years later the final Dallas location, Pig Stand #50 at Northwest Highway and Abrams, closed leaving the city that bore the Pig Stands without one. Just ten were left in the state: locations in San Antonio, Houston, and Beaumont. In 1985, the Fort Worth Star Telegram declared that “Pig Stands…are almost a thing of the past.”
The last real hurrah of the Pig Stands was a stand-off with the Hard Rock Café in 1992. The Pig Stands held a trademark on their “Pig Sandwich,” so when Hard Rock Café put the same item on their menu, they were taken to court. The trademark was upheld, which is why you can now dine on a “Hickory-Smoked Pulled Pork” sandwich at Hard Rock.
The death blow came in 2006. Hailey hoped to keep the doors open after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005, but the bills were too steep. The two remaining locations went dark on November 14, 2006.
The end of this story isn’t all doom and gloom. A few months later the final official location closed, Mary Ann Hill, long time manager at Pig Stand #29 on Broadway in San Antonio, purchased the restaurant. Now you can still get a Pig Sandwich and onions rings while you listen to your very own jukebox provided in every booth. Hope is still alive in Beaumont too. A group there is trying to find a buyer for the former Pig Stand #41 on Calder Avenue. Maybe they’re just trying to will history into repeating itself.
*Most agree that the year was 1921, but a few records suggest it may have been in early 1922. Court records from a lawsuit against Dixiepig Stand from 1929 list the original opening date as April 15, 1922, and an ad celebrating the achievements of the company that had “opened less than thirty months ago” ran in the Dallas Morning News on October 12, 1924.
Addendum: I’ve attempted to find the locations of the various Pig Stands across the country. I couldn’t find a complete list, so I’ve pieced together a few that I found during my research. If you can provide any of the missing pieces, please add the information into the comments section below.
#1A Dallas, the original opened in 1921 or 1922 on Fort Worth Pike (now Davis) at Chalk Hill Rd.
#1B Dallas at 1400 Second Ave. at Trezevant (demolished to make way for Fair Park expansion)
#2 Dallas at 1301 N. Zang and Bishop (now Colorado)
#3 Dallas at 5119 East Grand Ave.
#4 Dallas at 3715 Greenville
#5 Dallas at 3702 Maple Ave.
#7 Houston at Washington and Sawyer
#10 Beaumont at Port Arthur Rd. & Highland
#11 Fort Worth at 643 North Main St.
#12 Fort Worth at 1615 Park Place
#13 Fort Worth at 2736 W. Seventh (became Randolph’s Bar-B-Cue in the 80’s, then Stagecoach BBQ in 1991)
#15 Dallas at 4605 McKinney & Knox
#15 Dallas at 736 W. Jefferson
#18 Los Angeles
#25 Dallas at Gaston and Grand (air conditioned)
#28 Dallas at 1611 Forest Ave.
#29 San Antonio at 1508 Broadway St. (now Mary’s Pig Stand)
#30 Houston at 4803 Main.
#38 Dallas at 4017 Oak Lawn
#41 Beaumont at 1955 Calder
#42 Dallas at 1907 S. Buckner
#42 Fort Worth at 2320 E. Belknap
#50 Dallas at Abrams and Northwest Hwy. (Last location in Dallas. Closed 08/25/1985)
#? Dallas at 1801 S. Ewing
#? Dallas at 1512 Main