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Jeff KennedyJeff Kennedy is Founding Partner at Moe’s Original BBQ, a venture that began in 2001 as an effort to bring Southern flavors to the mountains of Colorado. Armed with a marketing degree from the University of Alabama, Jeff’s journey has been a fusion of culinary passion and a commitment to creating spaces that exude comfort and inclusion. His focus on hospitality aligns with his belief in the importance of crafting not just meals, but experiences. When he’s not shaping the barbecue scene, Jeff enjoys outdoor adventures with his wife Meredith and two daughters, savoring good food and creating lasting memories together.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Jeff Kennedy reveals the inspiration behind co-founding Moe’s Original BBQ in 2001
  • How Moe’s franchise structure resembles a collection of eclectic mom-and-pop shops
  • Why employee satisfaction and a positive customer experience are intrinsically linked
  • How specialized training for the pit crew focuses on the nuances of cooking barbecue
  • The role of technology in the brand’s evolution
  • Jeff’s personal favorites at Moe’s

In this episode…

Within the competitive landscape of the restaurant industry, brands are always on the lookout for ways they can set themselves apart from the competitors within their niche. Of course great food is a must, but what else can keep a customer coming back?

According to Moe’s Original BBQ Founding Partner Jeff Kennedy, the unique family-centric approach that defines his brand is just as valuable as the food. The emphasis on treating both employees and customers as an extension of the Moe’s family creates a distinctive and close-knit connection within the franchise. The atmosphere that permeates each restaurant makes Moe’s more than just a franchise, Jeff says; it’s a collective of friends and family.

On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Rise25’s Chad Franzen welcomes Jeff Kennedy, Founding Partner at Moe’s Original BBQ, to discuss the reasons behind Moe’s two-decade run of success. Jeff shares how he and his partners introduced Southern-style barbecue to the Rocky Mountain region after moving west from Alabama. He also reveals how the brand has built on its food foundation by evolving with technology and maintaining a familial atmosphere which appeals to employees and customers alike.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:04

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show, powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen  0:20

Chad Franzen here co-host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one they’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spot This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for your podcasts. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, partners and thought leaders in your space, there’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to or email us at After graduating from the University of Alabama in 1996 with a degree in marketing, Jeff Kennedy immediately moved to Vail Colorado in pursuit of a lifestyle focused on food fun and adventure. In 2001, he became the founding partner of Moe’s original barbecue, which now has over 50 locations in 13 states from coast to coast. In addition to restaurant development, hospitality and the desire to broaden its importance have become the primary focus of his career. In his free time you can find him with his wife Meredith and his two daughters Grayson and Libba Jane, somewhere outdoors, currently, outside of the country, eating well experiencing life together. Hey, Jeff, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you?

Jeff Kennedy  1:50

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Chad Franzen  1:52

Hey, tell me about where you are right now.

Jeff Kennedy  1:56

I am up in Northern Italy on up in the Dolomites and a little town called San Candido.

Chad Franzen  2:03

Wow, that is amazing. And what brought this trip about?

Jeff Kennedy  2:08

You know, my wife and I years ago just always enjoyed traveling and we just kind of set a goal a lofty goal for our to spend a year with our girls on the road kind of experiencing some small town cultures around the world and just yeah, just live in life really try and try not to be on vacation but live as locals and and just kind of dig into the scene and the culture and the hospitality of all these different little small towns around the world.

Chad Franzen  2:40

Is there anything about where you are now that’s kind of stood out to you in terms of culture that you know, that’s either different or that you enjoy?

Jeff Kennedy  2:47

You know, it’s really close my I’ve been to Europe before, it’s my first time into Italy. And so we’re kind of just digging into it, but it certainly is, it’s the area man is a lot like Vail, Colorado, where I live, it’s kind of a small town on the edge of big mountain ranges. And, it’s really cool. It’s just kind of a life centered around food and family and the mountains. You know, everybody’s kind of carrying skis around and, and doing their thing. And I would, I would say that I don’t know what we’ve learned yet. To be honest, I think that we’ve seen some really neat things and, and we feel there’s, there’s some things already that we could learn from from this area, and there’s something that they can learn from the US and from our stuff. So you know, like everywhere, mainly metal.

Chad Franzen  3:48

Yeah, sounds good. Hey, speaking of value, as I mentioned in your intro, you move to there in 1996 after graduating from Alabama, what inspired that?

Jeff Kennedy  4:01

I think the same thing I went when I was in college, I went skiing for my first time and just fell in love with it. And I’ve always been into the outdoors. And so I just really wanted to go kind of chase my love of the outdoors, and especially the mountain lifestyle. I just really got hooked on the way of life within the mountain scene.

Chad Franzen  4:25

So you had a degree?

Jeff Kennedy  4:28

Since I graduated, I packed my car and hauled it to Colorado.

Chad Franzen  4:33

Yeah, that is awesome. Just on your own. Yeah. So you had a degree in marketing. Did you have kind of a background in restaurants at all?

Jeff Kennedy  4:42

I’ve worked with my current partner Mike Fernandez, I’d work for him in college and in the restaurant and bar scene and kind of been in the restaurant world, throughout high school and into college, and just always realized in high school that I was good at throwing a party. And so I decided I should, I should try to make that a way to make a living for myself. So the combination of food and throwing parties and — yeah, kind of led me into the restaurant world.

Chad Franzen  5:17

So then in 2001, I believe Moe’s Original BBQ came about how did you and your founding partners kind of, you know, get that going and where did the idea come from?

Jeff Kennedy  5:29

So my partner Mike, like I said, I worked for him in college and he had started Moe’s BBQ in Tuscaloosa. And so I was working for him. And then he came out to culinary school in Vail. Johnson & Wales Culinary School was there. And, and so I followed him. When I graduated, we’d become good friends along the way. And so when I graduated, I knew I wanted to go to the mountains. And so just came straight to Vail. And then our third partner, Ben was also in school and friends from Tuscaloosa. And when he graduated, he followed suit to Colorado as well. And, so we decided to, there was no in Colorado, there was no real Southern food and barbecue for Coloradans in general is if you put you cook something on the grill and pour salt on his barbecue, and we disagree with that. Down South. So we started cooking on the side of the road. And so on BBQ, pretty pretty early on and, and it kind of took hold and we started going from there.

Chad Franzen  6:39

So how would you describe the style of barbecue at most, you know what, what, what kind of makes it distinct? And how did that style come about?

Jeff Kennedy  6:47

So we cook on hardwood we use apple wood, we used to dry rub it. And then and then we combined a couple of our favorite genres of food bedding, barbecue and soul food. And so each day, we take your basic barbecue menu, beef, pork, or chicken and turkey, ribs, fried catfish, all things and we combine it with a multitude of soul food kind of depending on what’s fresh and what we feel like cooking in the mornings. But you know, in addition to being all potato salad, on any given day, we’ll have collard greens, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, fried okra. So we try to really bring this idea of down south we call it a meat and three. So you go through a cafeteria line and you pick a mate, you pick a few sides, casseroles, get a piece of cornbread and sweet tea. So we kind of took the meat and three ideas and turned it into barbecue for us.

Chad Franzen  7:50

What would you say as opposed to maybe hospitality and culture? And you said you’d like to throw a party? What? What sets us apart in those aspects?

Jeff Kennedy  8:00

You know, I think Moe’s is, Moe’s is just really a big family. I think we’ve always been that way, it is a franchise, we call it a franchise because it’s really just a group of friends and family. And we treat each other like family and friends. And so I think that’s a really unique within each restaurant. As I travel around now and see them within each restaurant, they really take on their own family. But then across the broad spectrum of it. It’s one big family with a lot of a lot of small ones combined. And it’s really gotten to be a — it’s really a need. And really, that’s probably my favorite part about most is just the real close, close-knit connection. It doesn’t feel like a franchise, it feels like 50 mom-and-pops put together and sometimes that’s good. Sometimes it’s not good, but for the friendship and family aspect. It’s great.

Chad Franzen  8:59

So as I mentioned, there are more than 50 locations, and 13 states are all of those owned by franchisees.

Jeff Kennedy  9:08

They are — we own a couple of them in Colorado, but the rest of them are are owned by our partners franchisees around the country

Chad Franzen  9:17

Are you still looking to expand in terms of you know, develop further locations owned by other franchisees?

Jeff Kennedy  9:23

We are for sure we’re actually about to open another store in Myrtle Beach here in the next couple of weeks with a with a new partner up there and we have one down in Troy, Alabama under construction up in Maine one in the works and a couple others kind of in the works as well but nothing nothing coming quite fruition Yeah, but yeah, we want to keep keep growing it you know an aggressive but manageable pace we we really don’t want to we don’t want to blow it up into a your stereotypical franchise you know, I think barbecue needs to uphold to an extent it needs to uphold the character and of what it’s really about. There’s a lot of soul and barbecue and I think it’s hard to replicate that soul on a fast-expanding schedule, so we’re just kind of going at the rate that we can and at the rate that people want to get involved, how?

Chad Franzen  10:26

How do you kind of maintain that consistency and quality and things like that, you know, given that each restaurant is owned by maybe a different person, or, you know, a few restaurants are owned by a different person.

Jeff Kennedy  10:36

Right. You know, I think it’s a, that’s a, you know, not a struggle, but it’s a constant topic of discussion. And what we’ve done over the past four or five years is, is bring on four really good passionate restaurant, men and women to help us on the road. And they spent a lot of their time and efforts out just visiting face to face. And spending time just talking about quality and what our expectations of the brand or, and so, so with, with adding these people to our team, we’re just really trying to put them into the into the mix in these restaurants, and then just work with work with everyone and just do the best we can, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s difficult, I would say to keep everything exact, because we’re cooking from scratch. And, and when you’re cooking from scratch, you know, when your mom cooked mac and cheese, sometimes it’s too salty, sometimes it’s overcooked. That just kind of goes I think that kind of goes with cooking from scratch. It’s not always perfect, but it’s always done with love. And we just do our best you know.

Chad Franzen  11:46

What makes the most good option for a potential franchisee?

Jeff Kennedy  11:54

I think that that connection to friends and family who are around the country doing the same thing, and it’s the barbecue and Moe’s original, really offer a unique entry into a community. I think that barbecue in itself brings all walks of life together to enjoy company and food. And I think most has done a really good job with with creating, creating this entry for our owners and all the employees and each community where they just kind of a natural entry they bring, they bring their their craft into a community and and the community is just always comes open, open handed and open hearted to let us in. And we really thrive on being a part of these individual communities.

Chad Franzen  12:51

Yeah, that’s great. What is there? Is there anything that you kind of look for specifically, when somebody is interested in becoming a franchisee? You know, what do you look for in them?

Jeff Kennedy  13:03

I really just look for, I think that I think in the food service industry, I think a lot of people think that it’s an easy, an easy business to get into, because everyone can cook the best hamburger on the grill. And, you know, everyone feels like they can cook but there’s so much more to that. So I think it’s really understanding that the individual is passionate about really creating a welcoming vibe. And, and is also very understanding to hard work, because the work ethic that it takes to be in the restaurant industry is tremendous. And, and so I think a combination of ethic, work ethic, and just passion for hosting a party and creating a welcoming, inclusive environment for the communities to enjoy themselves.

Chad Franzen  14:03

How does that start with kind of training your employees or you know, your, your staff culture, things like that, you know, if the staff is happy then the customers are happy?

Jeff Kennedy  14:13

Right? Yeah, for sure. I think that the customer experience will never be greater than the employee experience. So I think starting with us creating a welcoming, encouraging opportunity for development and growth and, and so I think creating, creating that atmosphere for sure starts with us at the top and it’s up to us to create that scene and that inclusion in every restaurant. And then hopefully if we do our job right, then each individual location, the employees are showing that to the community and to the people coming in to visit.

Chad Franzen  15:01

Is there some — any kind of special training for the pit crew?

Jeff Kennedy  15:06

There absolutely is, we’ve got a we actually have a pit crew out in Vail right now training to go into Charlotte, North Carolina and so it’s, there’s, it’s not it’s nothing really hard, I would say it’s just, it’s just cooking, I think cooking on fire and and cooking barbecue is very different than than putting a burger on the grill and, you know, cooking it for a minute and a half on one side and flipping. It’s really, it’s really about time and understanding of the meats and what’s going on within the pit. And so it certainly takes some time. And I think it really, even in training the pit crew again, it just kind of goes back to the passion of wanting to craft to craft this meat in the sides every day, you know, nothing, nothing difficult, but a lot of little details that need to be put into action. And so it’s training of, of just putting people into the mix, and getting repetitions.

Chad Franzen  16:11

You know, you guys have been around for — the restaurant brand has been around for over 20 years, how has it kind of evolved since 2001?

Jeff Kennedy  16:21

It’s a really good question. You know, we’re trying to keep up with the times, but I think one thing that we do is we’ve always really just thought that crafting a very simple menu, and creating a really welcoming vibe within the restaurants is what it’s all about. And so we are, you know, technology, especially ever since COVID hit, technology is huge. My partners and I are not, we have a fourth partner Russell, who is our technology side. And so he’s brought so much to the brand on that side. And I think to keep up with the demands days, from online to deliveries to, to just the data that’s coming in with 50 stores. The technology side is huge. And I think in general, it’s really still just keep it a really simple format. We keep the menu simple and try to perfect it day in and day out.

Chad Franzen  17:29

Yeah, you know, I have been to the Fort Collins location. A multitude of times. Would you say that Colorado has changed its approach to barbecue. Since a Moe’s came about we don’t want to put sauce on a hamburger or something.

Jeff Kennedy  17:43

Right, right. I think so I think, you know, the first time that we cooked collard greens in Colorado. We couldn’t give them away. And now 20 years later, you know each location we sell about a case of collard greens a day from each location. And Ted, a partner up there in Fort Collins does an excellent job. He’s an unbelievable chef. And I think he really just stays — as far as quality of menu — he stays on top of it as much as anyone in our whole system. So I think you get a really good experience with the food side of things there for sure.

Chad Franzen  18:26

Yeah, absolutely. Hey, I have one more question for you. But first, how can people find out more about Moe’s?

Jeff Kennedy  18:35

You can check our website, We’ve got all your typical social media which are on the lack of technology side. I can’t even tell you what they are but they’re all out there. And you can just come by and see us if you ever run across Warren we’d love to have you in.

Chad Franzen  18:56

Okay, sounds great. So last question for you when you go to Moe’s as a customer what — and you know you’re from the South you have all kinds of familiarity. What’s your kind of go-to meal of choice?

Jeff Kennedy  19:12

I like to go with the pork sandwich, Bama style we call it — a regular pork sandwich with our — we add white sauce and our marinated slaw to the sandwich. So a pork sandwich Bama style with fried okra. I love some fried okra. And, I also tend to go with Mississippi mud pie to finish it off with some sweet.

Chad Franzen  19:39

Nice, nice sounds fantastic. Hey, Jeff, it’s been great to talk to you today. Thanks so much for sharing your story and telling us a little bit more about it. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Kennedy  19:48

Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me.

Chad Franzen  19:52

So long, everybody.

Outro  19:53

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