For Travis “Junior” Potter, there was never a doubt that he was going to be an entrepreneur. He and his fiancée, Johanna Arts, are just 20 and 17 years of age. Both own Junior’s Barbecue in the Prairie Shopping Center, and they are nothing less than spirited and talented about it.
“I always knew I was going to do this,” Junior said one Saturday morning before opening the restaurant for lunch. Junior is the oldest of 11, and his family has owned several businesses in meat, dairy around the county and now organic soda in Hayden. You could say entrepreneurship is in the family.
All in the family
Junior’s father, Travis, Sr., owns Tractor Soda Company, and his sister, Cheyanne, owned the 1920s soda fountain which will be part of the Juniors Barbecue soon. Travis Sr. started Tractor Soda Co. two years ago in the family kitchen, experimenting with flavors and having family and friends taste test. He creates his soda using all organic, fair trade and real ingredients.
“Everything is made from real spices, herbs and fruits, and the coloring is all-natural,” Junior explained. The flavors range from traditional cola and root beer to lemongrass, coconut and ginger beer, among other original flavors.
Junior grew up with parents selling meat and dairy in various family-owned businesses throughout his life. Born in Missouri, his affinity for barbecue began when his father, who was in the military at that time, was transferred to Georgia. It was there that his father learned to barbecue.
“I’ve had barbecue in almost every state. To put the best together with what we have here in terms of food, atmosphere and service,” he said.
Junior’s family moved to Minnesota after living in Georgia and later moved back to his parents’ home state of California. They often traveled the country to food shows; sometimes selling meat was as simple as setting up the smoker at a gas station. He was just 8 years old when he asked his father about barbecue sauce, and his father told him to figure it out. Junior began experimenting and developed his own recipe as he grew up.
“I went from hundreds of spices to just where I like it. We’re always adding new flavors too,” Junior said. He’ll be bottling some of those flavors too for sale at the restaurant along with some crafts made by his younger sisters.
Junior and Johanna take their barbecue seriously. Each meat takes between 4 to 18 hours to smoke. They serve brisket, tri-tip, deep pit beef, pulled pork and chicken plus sandwiches, Barbacoa Tacos, salads and meat by the pound. Their sides are all family recipes made from scratch daily.
“Sometimes we just sell out and some people just don’t understand why there isn’t more (already made),” Johanna said.
Johanna, the youngest of four and home-schooled, finished high school early and had planned on following her mother’s footsteps in becoming a midwife. When she met Junior, almost two years ago now, her plans changed. Now she is the restaurant’s business administrator and also helps cook, clean and prep.
They met when he was helping her father build fences on her family’s property. “He kept asking for water,” she said as she explained how they started talking. He later asked her to a swing dance, and now the two are engaged to be married in June. She said Junior was upfront about his dream of owning a restaurant and soon they started looking at possible places.
“We just threw it out there and started making spreadsheets to figure out what we wanted to do. I never thought I’d be part of a restaurant...but I like talking to people and cheering them up,” she said. “It’s awesome to be able to reach out to people, serve them and make them feel good.”
Keeping it clean
It’s always been important for the Potter family to “eat clean.” Their goal is to eat as healthy as possible and they do the same with the food they serve; their meats are certified organic. The practice began when Junior’s grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“As she went through that, she wanted to eat clean. She lived longer than expected, and that really influenced us,” Junior said.
From farm work to restaurant owners
Walk into Junior’s Barbecue in the Prairie Shopping in Hayden, and you’re transported into a cozy and creative atmosphere of tables made of truck beds, washtub lights and an ice cream parlor and shop in the back. They opened six months ago, and the two prepared everything themselves, with some help from family, just three months before opening. At the same time, Junior and Johanna sheared sheep and saved their earnings from that to fix up the old pizza place that is now Junior’s.
“We had the space for about three months. We would go to farms and shear sheep, just the two of us. Everything we made we put it into here,” Johanna explained.
Their hard work has paid off, and they renovated the space on a shoestring budget. Johanna made the washtub lights and Junior made the truck bed tables. Much of their decor comes from re-purposed materials like barn wood and old truck parts.
“We hope to make the restaurant a chain though we don’t know yet where this might take us,” she said. “It was definitely his dream when he started and now it’s both of ours.”
To learn more about what’s happening at Juniors Barbecue, visit their Facebook page.