Peace, Love, and BBQ Grease! Kissell’s Kitchen
“When we were moving in to this location, one of our employees quipped that. It fit, and it stuck.” Kirk and Darin Kissell smiled as they remembered the day.
The Kissells of Lauderdale County were the first settlers of a small community on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River called Barr, TN. In the early 1800’s, it was a hard-scrabble life for these settlers and family meals were an experience in hunting, fishing, trapping, cooking, and fellowship. The recipes used back then were passed through the generations, and each generation added it’s own touch. The modern day Kissell’s Kitchen BBQ recipe is a well-guarded secret passed from Darin and Kirk’s uncles, Oman and Garner Kissell, to Darin and Kirk’s fathers and then on to them. Kirk’s father is a well-known fisherman in the area and is renowned for his large fish frys in the community, passing this knowledge along to his sons. Darin became practiced in cooking large meals for his Church.
Darin originally opened what would become the Kissell’s Kitchen Restaurant that Ripley loves in a small country store in October 2010 with $46 and a prayer. “It was the practice run for this store,” Darin began the story. In March 2015, Darin partnered with Kirk to open the new location on the Historic Square. That location happened to be the exact location that their Aunt and Uncle, Mary and Emory ran Kissell’s Cafe, another Ripley Icon in the late ‘60’s through 1985. Keeping with the Kissell tradition of hard work and family values, Darin and Kirk have employed all of their children at Kissell’s Kitchen, passing beloved recipes on to them in an effort to keep the tradition of their great food alive in Ripley.
“All of our kids have worked here at one point or another.” Kirk continued, “We started working at 7, 8, 9, - we are used to working.” Darin added, “When we first opened, we worked daylight to dark here.” They started with 6 employees and now employ 22 people. It has been massive growth from a Mom & Pop. “We now have the capacity and do cater for up to 4000 people,” Kirk explained, “We to go boxes, food for 25, 30 or 600 families with a very flexible menu - if it’s something you want, we’ll fix a sample, and go from there!”
Part of the reason for their growth is that NOTHING comes from a box or a can, it’s made from scratch, like hand pattied burgers, and sometimes, they come up with ideas that improve on what they already do well. “We took our Redneck BBQ Eggrolls and remade them using Cheeseburgers, including onions and pickles on request, and then we decided to do a Philly steak eggroll,” Darin continued, “we added pizza eggrolls for the last 10 days, just to see if people would like them.” They did, and they may find them on the menu in the coming weeks.
“We are going to do a new and different burger every week,” Kirk added, “we are starting with the Big & Little Nasty, complete with onion straw haystacks on top, a Mushroom Swiss Steak Burger, a Hawaiian Burger and the Ring of Fire Burger.” Innovation started a long time ago for the Kissells. In Darin’s ‘practice run’, he had a lady who was going to have a baby come in and request fried pickles. “We didn’t have them on the menu, but she really wanted them. I looked around in the kitchen and had dill slices, so I put a little of our fish batter on them and we started doing fried pickles.” The lady wanted them, so Darin obliged. That’s just what they do. If someone wants something, and they have the ingredients in the kitchen, they make it happen.
The Kissells do lots of cooking, but the thing that sells just from the smell is their BBQ. The wood that they use is locally sourced pecan wood, which gives a smooth, mild and slightly sweet scent to the smoke used in turning meat into purely delicious BBQ. The secret to their BBQ, however, is the sauce handed down through the generations for the last 110 years. While the secrets to the meat have had some tweaking through the years, no one has messed with the sauce. It’s still the same sauce they grew up making in five-gallon buckets with Uncle Oman’s Recipe. “I make most of the sauces for the restaurant, the dressings and dipping sauce,” Kirk added, “they are all made by hand, except the Italian and thousand island dressings.”
Not only do they have good recipes from the past, but Darin’s father-in-law owned a restaurant for fifty years in Ohio. “Ed Pickens gave us a lot of business advice, and it’s worked” Darin smiled. The Kissells have tried things, going from just BBQ to breakfast, burgers and frying fish, but they’ve tried it by doing a fish night once a week until it became a regular everyday thing on their menu, now they are trying a steak night twice a month on the first and third Friday of every month. Sometimes they do wild game like a Quail Supper. “We sit down and decide to do something different, and we get lots of ‘to go’s’, too.” Kirk continued, “we even serve chitlins every now and then, 150 - 200 lbs worth.”
Darin learned to cook for big church groups when he was young, and Kirk learned to fry fish with his Dad, “My Dad did the big political fish fries, he did the one for Ned McWherter when he was Governor.” They have kept it in the family, teaching kids math skills while working the cash register - customers contributed in the lessons by making the kids count the cash out to them and not taking it unless they did it completely right. The Kissells are very family-oriented. They close on the family holidays, not necessarily the government holidays. “We want to keep our employees happy, it makes sense that they spend their time with their families, too.” Kirk continued, “We like to do things in the community, too.” They are planning a breakfast with Santa on December 22nd, from 8 am - 11 am. Santa comes in with small toys, coloring books, and amazes the kids as he calls them by name - and lets them know if they are on the good list or naughty list. They already do a discount for Veterans and first responders, active and retired. On Veterans Day and Patriots Day, they offer those who have served their Country and their Community 50% off of their meal. They do it because it’s important and because it’s the right thing to do.
The decor is another great thing about the restaurant. “We wanted it to look like a barn, with the big red wall as the first thing you see,” Darin explained. “Every member of the family brought something from the old family barn in Barr.” It reminds them of the small area in which they grew up. “Barr was about 19 or 20 miles from the closest town, you learned what was important, what family was.” They also have photos of their family, even a baptism in the older days right on the banks of the Mississippi.
Kissell’s, on the Square in Ripley, is a must see and taste restaurant. And don’t to ask what’s on their secret menu for the week - it’s the things they are testing out to see if they are menu worthy! You might be able to try something that is destined to be a great favorite.
Kissell’s Kitchen is located at 137 W Jackson Ave, Ripley, TN 38063, call in orders - (731) 419-2350, and they are open from 6 am to 8 pm every day except Sunday - that falls under family holiday, unless they are catering a large job.