The first Red Hot and Blue restaurant opened in Arlington, Virginia in 1988, started by Lee Atwater, Don Sundquist and friends. Don Sundquist was from Memphis and served in the House of Representatives and as governor of Tennessee. The late Lee Atwater was an amateur blues musician and political figure that managed George H.W. Bush’s successful race for the presidency.
These men were friends who longed for authentic Memphis-style barbecue and great blues music. Unable to find that combination anywhere in the Washington, DC area they decided the only way to get it done was to open a restaurant of their own.
In the early days, Red Hot and Blue had one portable, outdoor smoker in which all the meats were smoked. The Alexandria county health department didn’t allow outdoor smokers so whenever the smoke was billowing high; a health director inevitably arrived and asked them to turn it off. Pitmaster Sonny McKnight was Red Hot and Blue’s very first employee and he recalls how he would load the portable smoker onto his truck and drive for hours until the food was cooked to avoid confrontation with the health director. “After a couple hours on the freeway, I’d come back and we’d unload the meat at the restaurant,” McKnight said.
From the beginning, the Arlington Red Hot and Blue restaurant was a bipartisan hot spot. “It was common to see Congressmen from opposing political parties playing in the band together or sharing a rack of ribs and a cold brew,” McKnight said. “Red Hot and Blue was the first to introduce Washingtonians to full-flavored, authentic Memphis-style barbecue and true Southern hospitality.
Dancing Pigs, LLC, purchased the barbecue chain in 2006. Investors John Walker, chief executive officer and Randy McCann, president, head the Dancing Pigs, LLC management team. Both Walker and McCann are Southerners, blues fans and avid barbecue-lovers. The company moved its headquarters from Arlington, VA to Winston-Salem, NC in the fall of 2007 to be centrally positioned for the growth of franchised locations nationwide.
The rest is history. Today there are 25 Red Hot and Blue restaurants in the U.S. Each feature Blues themed memorabilia and a huge “Dancing Pig” logos in their buildings. The pigs — plus the wonderful hickory aroma of barbecue that permeates outside – entice customers into Red Hot and Blue restaurants across the country. There are 22 full-service dine-in, take-out and catering units in Annapolis, MD; Cherry Hill, NJ; Dallas, TX; Fairfax, VA; Flower Mound, TX; Fort Worth, TX; Gaithersburg, MD; Joplin, MO; Herndon, VA; Alexandria, VA; Irving, TX; Laurel, MD; Leesburg, VA; North Richland Hills, TX; Plano, TX; Raleigh, NC; Cary, NC; Warrenton, VA; Williamsburg, VA and Winston-Salem, NC.
Red Hot and Blue also offers two “express” quick-serve units located in Manassas, VA; and on-campus at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.
The Memphis-style barbecue chain celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 2013 by partnering with a charitable organization at 24 different restaurant locations. The yearlong celebration culminated in the presentation of thousands of dollars in donations to local charities.
The name Red Hot & Blue is taken from the title of DJ Dewey Phillip’s radio show that aired on WHBQ-AM in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1950’s. This radio show introduced the world to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash and broadened the audience for artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Cray, and Rufus Thomas. The atmosphere at Red Hot & Blue captures the essence of this timeless era with its hand picked blues memorabilia and the classic rhythm and blue tunes playing in the foreground.
The core of Red Hot and Blue’s offerings is hickory-smoked meat – ribs, pulled pork barbecue, smoked-chicken, tender beef brisket, smoked-sausage, southern-fried seafood and a line of branded barbecue sauces.
Only the finest U.S.A.-produced meat, fresh produce and ingredients are used. And all barbecue is cooked slowly using hickory logs, at low temperatures and long cooking times. All meats served are from the United States. Freshness is key, for example, the potato salad is homemade in 12-pound units every four hours so it is always fresh!
Menus feature “starters,” salads, entrees including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, beef, and seafood, a variety of Southern sides and homemade desserts. Since its founding, more and more delectable items have been added. Depending on location, customers are able to sample traditional Memphis-, Texas-, North Carolina- and other style barbecue. Red Hot and Blue personnel have made every attempt to design menus catering to local preferences.