The year was 1999. Joy and Cookie Swanson had sold all of their belongings, including their home in Austin, Texas, and moved to Durango. During the previous two summers, the couple lived in tents near Hesperus and sold barbecue out of a red trailer by the side of the road. The plan was to ditch the summertime camping and open a year-round restaurant, Serious Texas Bar-B-Q.
We tried to figure out how to make a living here and realized they didnt have any barbecue, but there are a lot of Texas tourists, Joy Swanson said. We knew we wanted to go to Durango, and barbecue was our key.
More than 12 years later, the restaurant chain is going strong and will open its fifth restaurant in Fort Collins this week. The new location will be the second Serious Texas that has opened on the Front Range, including a Loveland location that opened in 2009.
Opening the new restaurant will end up costing $200,000 to $300,000, which does not include buying the building, said Hunter Swanson, Joy and Cookies son and co-owner of the company.
This is the first restaurant where the company has opted not to buy the building, which made the process easier, Swanson said. The entire cost of the restaurant was internally financed, which feels good, he said.
As the restaurant chain expanded outside of Durango, Joy and Cookie gave up their ownership of the business to Hunter and five other Serious Texas employees. Now, the couple watches from the sidelines and helps scout new locations for expansion.
But their guiding principles about simplicity and employee appreciation have carried on.
When looking for new locations, the focus isnt solely on where a restaurant will be wildly successful, Hunter Swanson said.
It was more a decision of where we wanted to live than put a barbecue restaurant, he said about the Fort Collins location.
The presence of nearby colleges or universities are another element that makes a location desirable, as well as a population that likes barbecue, Joy Swanson said. The couple doesnt do demographic analysis and mostly go by their gut feelings, she said.
The couple is eyeing Flagstaff, Ariz., as another potential location for expansion.
Employee growth and satisfaction are the driving forces behind opening more stores, Joy Swanson said. The restaurants have many hardworking, loyal employees who also want to be managers, so opening new restaurants allows them the opportunity to climb that ladder.
Were trying to create the opportunity for them to have a better life, too, she said.
Hunter Swanson, co-owner Blake Mote and the managers of the Loveland and Fort Collins restaurants all moved to the Front Range after starting their careers at Serious Texas restaurants in Durango in 2007.
Drew Duvall, manager at the Fort Collins location, started working behind the counter at Serious Texas in Durango 2007.Right now, the company doesnt have any interest in franchising, though it has gotten several requests, Hunter Swanson said.
We really like to be the ones doing it, he said. Franchising definitely has its benefits, but we kind of want to keep it close to us.