Now, more than two decades later, he is working to bring Dickey's Barbecue Pit to Tyler in December.
“It's all cooked low and slow,” Huml, 38, said of the meats smoked on an old hickory pit. “They've got it down.”
The Dickey's franchise was started by Travis Dickey in Dallas in 1941 and has remained in the family, Kate Morganelli, spokeswoman for Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants, Inc., said.
Dickey's sons, T.D. Dickey Jr. and Roland Dickey, took over the business in 1967. When the company began franchising in 1994, Roland Dickey Jr. took the helm, and since 2006, has served as president and chief executive officer. There are more than 270 locations in 43 states, with more than 90 restaurants in Texas.
Dickey's offers eight signature meats, such as brisket, pulled pork and a variety of sausages. She said they are all slow cooked for 12 to 14 hours every day.
“We have a passion for the art of great barbecue,” Ms. Morganelli said.
Dickey's also serves 12 home style sides, such as potato casserole, fried okra and green beans, and they offer turkey and ham over the holiday season.
Huml, of Whitehouse, grew up in Arlington and started working at a barbecue restaurant when he was 16. After high school, he became a manager for the barbecue chain, working there nine years in the Dallas area, then in East Texas.
Huml left the business to try something else, and for the past 11 years, he has worked in processing and underwriting mortgage loans for several companies.
Nikki Huml was born and raised in Tyler and met John Huml in 1997 when they were both working for the barbecue restaurant here, she said. They have been married for 13 years and have two sons.
“We met at a barbecue place and now we came back and are opening our own,” Mrs. Huml said.
After researching many franchises over the last few years, Huml said he found out about Dickey's through a friend who is a franchisee of the restaurant.
“This seemed to fit our personality,” Huml said of Dickey's. “It has a real family feel to it. … It doesn't feel like big corporate America.”
Comparing it to working for big banks, he said Dickey's is extremely family oriented. “It makes you feel proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Dickey's is all about “backyard barbecue, cold beer and sitting down with family and friends to enjoy it,” Huml said.
The 2,800-square-foot building on Loop 323 has sat vacant for the last four to six months, he said. It was most recently The Donut Place and a former Baskin Robins/Dunkin Donuts.
Huml said he liked the spot because it is in between South Broadway Avenue and Old Jacksonville Highway, has a drive-thru and a cut through street next to it.
The Humls plan to open Dickey's in the first part of December and will have 12 to 15 employees. He said kids eat free on Sundays and there is free soft serve ice cream for everyone.
When Dickey's opens in Tyler, Ms. Morganelli said the first 100 customers will get a free sandwich.
Huml believes quality food, turnaround time and customer service are what set Dickey's apart from other barbecue joints. Dickey's also delivers and caters. He said they will deliver for free within 10 miles and will charge a fee for longer distances, depending on the mileage. They will cater for events with more than 10 people, and will provide full service catering for groups of more than 100, he said.
The Humls plan to open additional Dickey's in East Texas in the future. He said they are thinking of opening a second restaurant in Tyler after they get the first one going, and would like to eventually have three to five locations.
“We're just happy to be here and we're ready for this to open,” Huml said.