Restaurant Revisited: The Writing on the Wall at Bama Q

by in Shows, May 28th, 2014

Robert Irvine on Restaurant: ImpossibleBefore Robert Irvine got to work on the failing Big Jim’s Bama Q in Hammondville, Ala., he talked with Big Jim himself, who, while no longer the owner of the restaurant, was able to tell Robert stories of a once-successful venture at the barbecue-focused eatery, ultimately proving that the business could be profitable. The new owner of Big Jim’s, Daniel Millican, had failed to make the business his own, leaving nearly all of the original leader’s menu, decor and practices in place. With time, Daniel had become disconnected from the restaurant after spending much of his time away at his other business, a sawmill, and Robert questioned whether Daniel wanted to be involved going forward. It took Robert and his Restaurant: Impossible team two days and $10,000 to inspire Daniel, overhaul the mismatched design, establish new processes for tuning out authentic barbecue and, in perhaps the most-dramatic update, change the name of the business to simply Bama Q. Read on below to hear from Daniel and his sister-in-law, Carolyn, the former assistant manager of the restaurant, in an exclusive interview and find out how his business is faring today.

Bama Q is earning almost $1,000 more per week than before its Impossible transformation, and Carolyn notes: “Everyone loves the inside of the restaurant. A lot of people are responding to the floors, the tables, the chicken wire. … It feels much more open and welcoming.”

While Robert noticed that food might have a tendency to get cold in the old space, Daniel confirms that since the renovation, “I’ve not heard any complaints about food coming out cold anymore. The food is coming out very quickly.”

Daniel says he’s now invested in Bama Q, explaining, “After Robert left, it felt like a good revival. I’ve got passion in it; I’m determined to make it work.” Carolyn agrees and notices the difference. “Daniel is dealing with things better as a boss,” she says. “He realizes he has to take a stand about the business.” She adds, “The time he’s spent in the restaurant is a better quality.”

As for her role at the restaurant, Carolyn says, “I’m not back in there working — still figuring out if I’ll jump in with both feet.”

More from Restaurant Revisited:

Cave Inn BBQ (May 21)
Bumbinos Italian Ristorante (April 30)
Bryant’s Seafood World (April 23)
Urban Roots (April 9)
gratifi kitchen + bar (April 2)
Mama Della’s N.Y. City Pizzeria (March 26)
Pasión Latin Fusion (March 19)
Tootie’s Texas BBQ (March 12)
Mill Creek BBQ Restaurant (March 5)
Estrada’s Restaurant (February 5)
Hillbillies Restaurant (January 29)
Spunky Monkey Bar and Grill (January 15)
Heather’s Country Kitchen (January 1)
Goombazz Big City Eatzz (December 18)
LBI Pancake House (December 8)
Ship Bottom Volunteer Fire Company (December 8)
Mike La Susa’s Italian Restaurant (December 4)
Seven (November 27)
Georgia Boy Cafe (November 20)
Coach Lamp Restaurant & Pub (November 13)
The Windsor 75 (November 6)
Ducky’s Family Restaurant (October 30)
Mama Campisi’s Restaurant (October 23)
Aponte’s Pizzeria (August 25)
Benner Street (July 28)
Hurley’s American Grille (July 21)
Kalico Kitchen (July 14)
Angelo’s (June 23)
Pier West Restaurant (June 16)
Pinehurst Country Lodge (June 9)


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Comments (68)

  1. FNGossip says:

    That sure was a weird episode… One online review did complain about cold food.

  2. klb4n6 says:

    The designer is an idiot. She had to paint the walls black to cover up the writing? Does she not know what primer is? The walls are way too dark for such a small space.

    • karenm says:

      You must be a decorator Freight on? Why do you feel it is necessary to be rude like that? People like you need smacked upside the head and a prayer said in hope you wake up. Idiot, really? The place looks a thousand times better than it did. That's what matters most.

      • Isn't this a forum for honest feedback? If people aren't going to be honest about how they feel about it, there is no need to post at all. Not giving honest feedback kind of defeats the purpose.

        The excuse they gave for painting the walls black is a stupid one to anyone who has ever heard of primer. The walls did not have to be black especially since the rooms are all so tiny. A lighter wall would have brightened up the place and made it seem bigger, not smaller. Heck, they could have redone all the walls in the free wood from Danial's lumber place and left it the natural color or painted it a light color.

      • klb4n6 says:

        Yes, really. There is a thing called Primer that covers up writing. I'm sorry the designer is too du to know what it is. Small spaces need LIGHT colors to make them look larger. Sure it looks a little better, but who wants to eat in a cave?

        And looking better is not the most important thing – good FOOD is. It's a restaurant – if the food is good enough people will go back even if the decor is ugly.

        Also, you are a total hypocrite. "Smack upside the head and pray" – sure, that's the way to get someone to change their mind, violence and hypocrisy. I hope that YOU wake up some day.

      • Carol_R says:

        What matters most is the food not the decor.

    • cmillican says:

      I hope you get to see it in person. I looks INCREDIBLE! The black is actually chalkboard paint. She designed it so that, if the owner chose to, people could still sign the walls but the option would be there to clean them easily every so often. She really put a lot of thought into the details. Great gal!

      • Jan says:

        I've seen it in person and found it very depressing. I sat by the little bay window for light. I could not imagine being in that dark little rooms at night. Tiny rooms and black walls do not go well together. I found it extremely depressing. I've eaten at Jim's before, when Jim owned it. His decor was even more horrible, but his food was good enough that you didn't mind. Can't say the same for Danial's.

      • Isn't this a forum for honest feedback? If people aren't going to be honest about how they feel about it, there is no need to post at all. Not giving honest feedback kind of defeats the purpose.

        As for the designer putting a lot of thought into it. Her biggest thought should have been that the rooms were TINY and that small rooms need a lighter color, not darker. What sense does it make to say the writing was horrible, then turn around and make it so people can write on them some more?

        The most important factor was covering up the writing, which a good primer would have done and then LIGHTENING UP the rooms so they wouldn't look/feel so small. She covered up the writing and according to you, did it so more ugly writing could be added, and also made the rooms feel depressingly dark and feel even smaller. That is not good well thought out design choices.

        • cmillican says:

          bamajan, I am very glad people leave honest feedback when it is actually honest feedback. Sadly the downside of feedback in online arenas isn't always so. I am not saying that is the case here at all but it really would be great if you would take me up on the offer to swing by. You sound like you are local? I know Daniel would be very open to constructive feedback from those coming in. He wants to make this work. This is actually a very good example of what happens when feedback is left online only. On Saturday, the only disappointment expressed by customers was that much of the menu had been depleted. He didn't hear the other concerns you have expressed online. Maybe it helps when things can be said with keyboard instead of face to face? I can see how that could be. He needs to get a comment box at the bbq huh :)

          As to the paint, she left Daniel with options/choices to make on how he would want the walls to look. Since everything was a surprise, she wanted him to have the option of allowing people to use chalk on the walls or to simply keep things black,white, and wood. For now he is choosing to keep the chalk put up. I am glad she allowed him that choice. It is one of many he will be making as he transitions into making the place his own. Robert was all about Daniel stepping up and making choices so I thought it was very fitting. I knew it would not appeal to everyone. I personally love how cozy and intimate it makes the place. It is unexpected for a bbq joint. I liked that but I can see how some would like areas that feel large and open. I guess that is the beauty of paint right? It ends up being an easy thing to redo in the event it is hated or one grows tired of it :)

          • Sharon says:

            Let me just say I did not understand the black and would never have used black but after you explained it, it really makes since. As far as the cooking, fire the cook and bring in a cook that knows how to follow directions. Also hire a manager that knows how to cook and teach the owner how to do the taste tests. That would fix the problem.

  3. Freight on says:

    Great episode. Awesome people deserving of a makeover. Love it!

  4. David Hart says:

    A rather modest improvement in earnings. I am afraid that this time they took a once popular dive and made it too fancy. It's beautiful but it might have backfired. In time, though, if they stick with improved food it will probably come back. They seem like very nice people.

    • moneymike23 says:

      It might have backfired?!?!!? The guy was way over his head and the restaurant was doing horrible. It has nowhere to go but up from here even if it is slowly.

    • Ricky says:

      Not sure what you are talking about when you say that it is to fancy. How can a restaurant where you sit down to eat be to fancy? It is a thousand times better than before and extremely cleaner which is a super thing. I am afraid that having a "dive" was a lot of the reason he was not prospering. With the new and cleaner decore, a different class of paying customers is being attracted. And paying customers is what the business is about. Lol

    • Livie says:

      I agree. They now have a polished turd. And they can make the inside look as nice as they want. It still looks like an uninviting dump on the outside.

  5. Mysticld says:

    Well a very small town in the mountains of N.E.Alabama. I intend to try it when I visit family there. I ate there once when big Jim owned it and he had awesome BBQ sauce. It was so good I bought some home with me. When my daughter in law came for a visit last year she bought me some more. I sure hope they still have that sauce. I agree weird episode

    • Shannon says:

      The new bar BBQ sauce is much better than Jim's was. It is thick and smooth where Jim's was very thin and oily.

    • The new BBQ sauce is pretty much flavored ketchup. I honestly thought it was for my fries, not my pulled pork. I actually asked them where was the BBQ sauce. I originally thought, cool ideal, BBQ flavored ketchup for the fries, until I realized that was the actual sauce for the meat. If you like ketchup for your BBQ sauce, you'll love this. Me, not so much.

  6. summy says:

    My husband and I love the family to death and wish them the best of luck❕❕❕❕❕❕❕❕❕❕

  7. darley says:

    Where was Daniels wife during the renovation? Good luck Bama Q!!

  8. Barbara Ann says:

    From where we come from all all families have children and have to work. Although Audra is awesome, a person that has a vested interest in this business working and being profitable HAS to show up. Everyday. Sorry Mrs. Millican and your two feet, applaud your husband all you want, but others have five kids [this poster included] and managed to be away from them to assure our business was a success. I will never discount the job a stay at home mom has, as I have always been one, but I did more than just sing my husband's praises because I didn't want to get my feet wet. You were given a life line and a very big gift – it you want this to continue you are going to have to step, onto pavement – don't worry about the water and "wet feet" – and get over to the restaurant. Even if you have to take the young ones with you while the older ones are in school. And if you home school, bravo!, this will be a learning experience and it IS their legacy.

    I thought they did a fabulous job on the restaurant. It is one of the most dramatic transformations I have seen on RI. Good for Robert and his team, not only with the decor but with the menu. Bad bbq is bad bbq [water baths?? no wonder your sales have gone up] I really liked this one, but Mrs. Millican needs to support Daniel and get it done It won't last with an owner in that restaurant.

    • Barbara Ann says:

      *It won't survive without an owner in the restaurant." my typo

    • Melisa says:

      The lady in the episode was the owners sister in law not his wife. The sister in law is the one with the five children. I know this family and work within a mile of this restaurant. Daniel deserved this very much and the food is tramendously better.

    • cmilican says:

      Barbara Ann, This is Carolyn. Thank you for the comment. Truly. If Daniel was my husband, this would be the type of thing I needed to hear. I 100% supported my brother-in-law for several months after he took over running the business. I actually managed it while Jim was still there cooking (he quit right before the show was shot) I had business experience and I believe strongly enough in Daniel and the business that I worked for free to try and help him get it off the ground. I was manager when the show called about the application Jim had submitted while he was the owner. I was VERY excited for the business and Daniel. The experience was incredible! The show gave a very short glimpse into why I had to step back. I have 5 kids ranging from 3 to 15. I do homeschool (there was actually a scene where one of my kids was seated doing her school work at a booth) but I also have another job as well that I simply did not want to quit. My quality of work at that job was suffering due to the hours I was putting in at the bbq. As much as I would love to be in there ( I truly,truly loved it!) I have to be a wife to my husband,mother to my children, and have enough energy to still get my other work done. I was actually incredibly sad over leaving and struggling with the choice. Robert helped a lot with that struggle. While he wanted me in there, he also wanted me to get the priorities in my life straight. As he reminded me " It has to be God,husband,children and then everything else" I am so glad that there are people like you that would speak up about a wife supporting her husband. Thank you for doing that :)

      • Carla B says:

        Carolyn, VERY interesting that Jim was still cooking right up to the time the show was done. So, all the problems with the food up to that point should have been put on Jim, rather than Daniel. Knowing that, I think it's odd that they 'featured' Jim at the beginning as if everything was just dandy when he was there. I suppose it was because he was the one who actually applied to the show._You all seem like wonderful people. I totally understand why you can't give up all your time when you have nothing invested. I truly hope you are in customer service somewhere, because you seem to have a real talent & passion for it. Best of luck to all of you.

  9. Vicki says:

    I have been there both when Jim owned it and after the makeover. I have to say that the new décor is great, the food is not. We went in to try the new menu and I truly can say if was awful. The barbeque sauce was mostly vinegar and the pulled pork sandwich was stone cold and had no seasoning. I was sick for a week after eating there and will not go back.

    • cmillican says:

      Vicki, please swing by and let Daniel and Audra know! this is really the kind of stuff they need to hear face to face. I do understand it is hard to give a review face to face but they really need it in order to be able to actually talk to those behind the review. It is actually very important to Daniel. I saw a review today by someone that had been let go shortly after the show was filmed and we have seen a few by past employees so at this point I think it is very crucial for Daniel to know some critical remarks are from actual customers. Daniel really does need to hear both positive and negative reviews from the folks coming in. He really wants to make this work and constructive remarks (even critical!) in person are crucial! Please swing by and say hi and let him know :)

  10. Joe Aldridge says:

    It was fun to watch the episode as I have eaten there for years. I live just north of Atlanta and it takes me about an 1:45 to get there. However, myself and friends have actually driven up just for dinner on Friday night and then come back home. I must admit I only eat the ribs, fried pickles and sweet tea, never order anything else. Loved it when big Jim ran it, right after Daniel first took over there was and issue and then Daniel made a quick change and Carolyn came back to help out and it got better again. I ate there this past Friday, 5/23 and it was pretty good. Maybe not the best I have had there but it did not disappoint. I liked the new look ok, my kids are upset and said it is not the same. They had written all over the walls and liked going and looking at where they had signed over the years. I also know their hours and pre-order my racks before I go.

    Daniel, I wish you the best and hope to be back up there soon!!

    Joe from Kennesaw, GA

    • cmillican says:

      Hey Joe! I remember you! Miss seeing you and the crew of guys you would bring from time to time. I actually thought of your kids having signed the wall when we were all thinking about the possibility of the walls being painted. I actually cited that as one reason I thought at least one room may need to stay the same ;) Lots of history was on the walls. Tell your boys I'm sorry about their names being gone. Thank you for sticking things out over rough patches and maybe one day I'll see you guys again in there!

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