Bob Page, a lifelong cook who spent seven years as the chef at Lands' End, planned for his barbecue sauces to grow his retirement fund.
But it hasn't worked out that way. Bob's Bitchin' BBQ, a Dodgeville restaurant Page owns with his wife, Judy Page, has become so popular with locals and tourists alike, it's taking all of the couple's time.
"Since we moved in in March, we've served 60,000 people already," Bob Page said. "You know, it's just busy all the time. We've become a destination."
Bob's, which Page thinks gets initial traffic from its memorably "edgy" name, was at its previous location for two years and four months. The restaurant then expanded into a former hardware store, with seats for 90.
"The building we're in was redone and brought back to its original 1905 state," Page said.
Page uses hickory chips in his electric smokers, smoking ribs for about five hours and pork and brisket for eight to 10. The temperature stays steady at 250 degrees, which "makes life a lot easier," Page said, though all six smokers are packed with UW Provisions meat most of the time.
"We're very consistent," he said. "We get a lot of people who think we have the best barbecue."
Bob's Bitchin' BBQ keeps 16 Wisconsin beers on tap ("I'm a craft beer geek," Page said) and has 12 large-screen TVs that allow the restaurant to double as a sports bar.
Page has liked being in Dodgeville, in part because he could count on word of mouth from people he used to work with. The restaurant doesn't need to advertise.
"Not everyone likes living in the big city," Page said. "It's easier being in a small town ... to become part of the community. That's one of the reasons we excel."
As for the sauces, Page is pretty hands off with the making of them now. The Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen makes up his eight sauces: original (hickory smoked), BrewBQ (with Spotted Cow), Carolina (mustard and vinegar), Habanero, Honey Chipotle, Mango Red Pepper, Razzberry and RBQ, made with Sprecher's root beer.
The Pages are still working to get them sold in grocery stores everywhere, up from about 40 now. And the restaurant keeps them busy, as Bob likes to stop by people's tables to see if they're enjoying themselves.
It's exhausting, but it's also "very rewarding," Page said. "How can I complain about the fact that I know that every meal, whether it's lunch or dinner or Tuesday or Sunday, we're going to be busy? How many restaurants can say they never worry about money?
"That part of it alone makes it worth it," he said. "I'm not a morning person. Every morning when I get up I hate the place, but by the end of the night when I've talked to hundreds of customers, it makes it OK again."