by Cesca Janece Waterfield
As co-owners of Neely’s Bar-B-Que, husband and wife Patrick and Gina Neely run one of the most successful restaurants in the South. As if that weren’t enough, last February, the couple premiered in their own Food Network show, “Down Home with the Neelys.” The show set a five-year record as the network’s highest-rated series debut and it continues to draw high ratings. As they highlight Southern cooking and soul food, the Neelys bring their kitchen secrets to light with their enthusiasm for food and people. Success has made them familiar faces all over the country, even other parts of the world. It might seem like a long way from Pat’s first restaurant that operated with one barbeque pit and a few tables. But not really. Pat Neely has been in the business of barbeque all his life, and even after receiving awards and achieving high-profile success, the Neelys are still down home.
Pat grew up in Memphis, Tennessee with three brothers, Gaelin, Tony, and Mark. At the age of 15, he began working in his uncle’s restaurant, learning the art of Southern barbecue, slow-cooked with indirect heat. In high school, Pat and Gina dated steadily, but focused on education and careers after graduation.
The Neely brothers decided to take their uncle’s lessons, and go into business for themselves. Together they borrowed $20,000 from their grandmother, and opened a restaurant in downtown Memphis. Gina went to college and later held positions including Branch Manager at National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, and as an events coordinator for a Memphis public relations firm. Although the two had not dated for several years, at their ten year high school reunion, Pat and Gina reunited. They married in 1994, and Gina brought her considerable skills to her husband’s business. Today, she manages the catering division of Neely’s Bar-B-Que, which comprises about one fourth of the business. She also leads the merchandise division, overseeing online and national retail sale of sauces, seasonings, shirts, hats, and aprons. The Neelys recently added a second restaurant location in Nashville. It’s a busy lifestyle, and it can’t always be easy to balance roles in marriage, business, and growing celebrity.
But with daughters Spenser and Shelbi, the Neelys still live in Memphis today, and work hard for the betterment of the iconic city. They film “Down Home with the Neelys” there and are both active in local civic groups and high schools. They sponsor children to attend NBA Memphis Grizzlies home games, and their church is Cummings Street Missionary Baptist.
In 2007, Patrick was named Restaurateur of the Year by the Memphis Restaurant Association. The same year, the Minority Enterprise Development named Neely’s Bar-B-Que as “Business of the Year.” The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. awarded them with a Small Business Blue Ribbon.
They Neelys start off every New Year with Black Eyed Peas.
“Down Home with the Neelys” airs Saturdays at 11 am ET on Food Network.
Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Recipe courtesy The Neelys, 2008
1 large tomato, diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cups unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cups canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans black-eyed peas, drained
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the rice wine vinegar, canola oil, sugar, and salt and pepper.
Toss all together and let marinate for up to 8 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 8 hours
Ease of preparation: easy