BISMARCK — Barbecue lovers far and wide will descend on the town of Bismarck today, for it is a red-letter day for the community. The Rib Cage Barbecue and Catering will officially open its doors just in time for the noontime crowd.
Owned by Jason and Angela Looney of Hot Springs, and their rescue, Yorkie “Rocco,” the restaurant is a dream come true for the couple, high school friends who reconnected 10 years later and have traveled the barbecue circuit for the last seven years perfecting their sauce.
In fact, the restaurant will revolve around the secret sauce, which took Angela, aka the Rub and Sauce Master, six years to tweak.
“Our original spicy sauce is the only one that is commercially bottled,” she said, “and that’s because our friends kept insisting that we sell it.”
It’s that good.
“That’s what they say,” Angela added. “People tell us it’s the best sauce they’ve ever had, but folks need to come and try for themselves and let us know what they think.”
The Looneys started on the slippery slope of barbecue perfection much as any other backyard hobbyist. They used their family and friends as guinea pigs.
“He had done some competitive barbecue before we ever dated,” Angela, an independent licensed health insurance agent and Realtor with a degree in advertising and public relations, said of her carnivorous husband. “Once we started dating, we entered a competition together, and they had a prize for the best sauce. At the time, I thought I should just make my own, and so I did.”
Since that first competition, the team, known as The Rib Cage, took second place in the Buzzbecue in North Little Rock last May and first place at the Best of the West Family Fest 2009 and 2010 in Bismarck, and earned the People’s Choice Barbecue Chili designation in October.
“Those were the main awards we won,” Angela said, “but we’ve been humbled, too. Competitive barbecue is a tough world. For some reason, barbecue starts as a hobby, develops into a passion and, eventually, becomes a career. Opening our restaurant seemed like a natural progression.”
When the Looneys decided to open a restaurant, they began to scout, in earnest, for a favorable location, Angela said.
“We were led over Jack Mountain Road, a short drive from our home south of Hot Springs, to the community of Bismarck, and the people there have really welcomed us.
“We couldn’t be happier to serve them the best barbecue around. Any way you look at it, barbecue heaven is just off Highway 7.”
The Rib Cage will open with a staff of five.
“Usually, it’s just Jason and me, but we catered the Hog Rally in Hot Springs this summer, and we fed about 1,700 people, and only five of us did all that work,” she said.
The restaurant’s core will be the barbecue and fixings, but the business will also offer combination platters and burgers.
“We’ll have fish on the weekends,” Angela said, “plus, we’re already taking orders for smoked hams and turkeys for Christmas, and any item not regularly on the menu can be specially requested with advance notice.”
Self-employment appeals to the competitive couple.
“We hope it will allow us the time and freedom to do what we want to do, so if we want to participate in a barbecue competition, we could do that,” Angela said.
The Looneys extend an open invitation to the restaurant’s grand opening today, which will feature pork, beef, ribs and chicken slathered with the secret sauce.
The Rib Cage Barbecue and Catering is at 18806 Highway 84 in Bismarck. For more information, call (501) 865-3232.