Meet the brains and muscle behind this impressive one-woman show in Temple, Texas.
“I came to the country [in 1975] and I couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t read or write— none of that! So I had to learn everything!” That’s Kim Dunn of Pit Stop Bar-B-Q in Temple, Texas.
In March 2017, less than a year after retiring from her 26 year career working for the government, she opened her own barbecue joint.
“In those four or five months I already got all my stuff done at the house and then I got bored,” she says with a smile. “I’m 62, but I run like I’m 17!”
That is no understatement, considering Dunn is both the owner and sole employee of Pit Stop Bar-B-Q, where she can usually be found Wednesday through Saturday. Sundays are reserved for lawn care, and she switches off between shopping for ingredients on both Mondays and Tuesdays.
“I tell my customers to call before they come because sometimes I play hooky — I need that hooky!” she says with a laugh. “I tell them If I’m not here, don’t waste the gas.”
Dunn’s menu consists of Texas barbecue staples (like brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, and coleslaw), Korean items (like bulgogi, kalbi, kimchi and cucumber salad) and her Cajun influenced best-selling chicken jambalaya and red beans with rice.
“I’m a country girl from South Korea,” says Dunn. “One side is the ocean and the other side is nothing but the rice paddy. But bulgogi is one of the things I learned once I was in the States because we were so poor we didn’t even see cows.”
Dunn met her first husband in Korea, while he was in the Air Force. Her first job on the military base was in airline catering, but she went on to become a food manager and then an owner-operator of fast-casual operations like Burger King, Popeye’s Chicken and Baskin Robbins. Each corporation would train her for 6-12 weeks before she opened locations on military bases across the globe. Colter’s BBQ was the last company she trained with before opening a location at Fort Hood.
“I chose career versus marriage,” says Dunn. “Many women are happy when the man makes $140,000, but I wanted to try and see if I could do this by myself, without my husband’s help.”
Dunn’s business started as a simple snack counter inside a gas station in Belton, serving tacos, then burgers and Korean items before expanding into barbecue. She immediately gained regulars, but faced her share of skeptics as well.
“People would come peek in the little window and then they would leave,” she says. “They were probably thinking, ‘This Asian woman knows how to barbecue?’ And sometimes some of them would just ask me how I know.”
After working in that location from 6:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. six days a week, Dunn had gained enough following and revenue to seek out a bigger space. She moved to a couple different locations before finding the little bungalow in Temple, which has now housed Pit Stop for the past eight years. Not only has she paid off her mortgage on the property, but she has also put both her sons through college. She says this is why she’s so generous with her portions and even refuses to weigh her meat (an unorthodox practice in the Texas barbecue world).
“It’s more of a family thing, even though they are customers,” she says. “I sure didn’t go into barbecue to become a millionaire! But I enjoy it and I’ve reached most of my goals.”
Dunn knows just about every person who walks through her front door by face and name. And if she doesn’t, she welcomes them in for the first time with a sample of every protein.
“Sometimes I'm pushy I guess, but I want people to try everything,” she says with a smile. “And then nobody asks how I know how to barbecue. ‘She can barbecue better than me’— that’s what they say now!”