A few weeks ago we checked out Rip’s, a Bar-B-Q eatery in Connersville, Indiana that friends Byron and Linda Kinsinger introduced us to. Needless to say, I was skeptical. Everyone knows that Bar-B-Q is an American original with its roots in the south, not in Indiana.
I had to eat my words, literally, because Tom Ripherger, owner of Rip’s, made a believer out of me. Although Rip’s may be small with only eight tables, the taste is big.
It all started a little over two years ago when Tom wanted to go for his dream. He was a software analyst in Memphis, Tennessee, and when he moved to Forrest City, Arkansas, he was introduced firsthand to real Bar-B-Q.
“I got hooked on the flavor,” he remembers. “When we moved back to Connorsville, we couldn’t find any Bar-B-Q that came close to the flavor that we had grown to love. Ironically, I got a promotion at work which took me off the floor and put me in a tiny cubicle all day. I didn’t like it, so I decided to follow my dream and open my own place. I have always liked to cook and grill, so this was a natural progression.”
So Rip’s was “born,” and Tom did both jobs for about a month until he decided that he could either put 20 percent of his time into his new venture, or 100 percent. Luckily, he chose the latter.
“Everything just fell into place,” he recalls. “Actually my folks, Sue and Tom Sr., were looking for a place to open an ice cream parlor when we saw a “For Sale” sign on this place, and we decided to make it a Bar-B-Q with ice cream on the side. It just fit.”
So what makes Rip’s so different? One of the biggest influences was when Tom tried Bar-B-Q in Memphis that was touted to be some of the best and he didn’t care for it. He is a firm believer in “meat should be good by itself and the sauce should only enhance the flavor.” Thus, Rip’s does Bar-B-Q not southern-style, not Memphis-style, but rather Rip’s-style.
Their meat is moist and full of flavor, even without the sauce, thanks to the special rub that he had already perfected to the family’s liking. Beyond that, customers have a choice from seven different Rip’s signature sauces, all named based on his take of each region. All seven are Tom’s originals, and each adds a distinct flavor. Memphis is a sweet sauce, while Texas sauce is spicy, and he also has a blend of the two, which are his most popular. Alabama sauce is mayonnaise-based, Carolina has a mustard base, and peach habanero is for those who just can’t get it hot enough.
Just keeping up with having enough sauce and rub is a job in itself. In a typical week, Rip’s uses 5 gallons of mild sauce, 3 to 5 gallons of each of the others, and 20 gallons of rub. That’s a lot of sauce and spice!
“Accompanying” his sauces and rub are 750 pounds of beef, pork, and chicken bought fresh each day and smoked to perfection in two smokers that are filled with hickory, apple, and other fruit woods. Tom explains, “We load the pork and brisket in the large smoker at night and it slow cooks for 12 hours, and then each morning we put the ribs and chicken in the smaller cooker and leave it for 3-1/2 hours.”
However, man does not live by Bar-B-Q alone. All of the side dishes are homemade from family recipes, too. His mother Sue is in charge of these. “We feature a different soup each day, and that works out pretty well. We also offer any leftover soup from the previous day along with the special, and this saves waste and offers our customers a couple of choices.”
She makes 2 gallons of soup each day and mixes her baked beans in a 5-gallon bucket so they are already seasoned and she can bake only what she needs at a time. Her beans definitely have a secret ingredient that sets them apart. “You’ll just have to stop by and taste them for yourself to see if you can figure out what it is,” she says with a grin.
Sue and her husband, Tom Sr., have been stanch supporters of the business since Day One. Even though they have adopted six kids in addition to their own — with four of the adopted ones still at home with them — Sue cooks most of the sides while her husband does maintenance and is basically jack of all trades. Tom Jr.’s sisters, Tiffany, Tammy, Jaimee and Hannah, fill in wherever needed as does his daughter, Katelyn. Audrey, who has been there since they opened, is just like family, as are brothers Devon and Darren who round out the team.
It is obvious that they are a close- knit family, and that atmosphere is conveyed to the customers. Tom likes working with less staff and having the family atmosphere. “Everyone has a purpose and a place, and we are all working toward the same goals.”
As if Bar-B-Q and homemade sides weren’t enough, you can also round out your meal with homemade desserts (if you have room!). These include cheesecake, fruit cobblers (peach, apple, cherry, and blackberry), banana pudding, and 14 flavors of ice cream. Now, that’s my kind of meal!.
“All of us have special duties but we all know every job, so we can fill in wherever needed,” Tom says. That’s a good thing since they also do event catering, which includes either just delivering the food or setting up and serving it, too, depending on the wishes of the customer. Sometimes it gets a little hectic when they get a call in the morning for an event that the customer wants catered that same afternoon. “My motto is that if the customer wants it, I have to figure out how to get it. It’s not always easy,” Tom sighs.
Just recently, Rip’s also started serving breakfast. Sue laughs. “For the present it’s only French toast, biscuits and gravy, and other simple items. We have to be here at 6 A.M. anyway, so we figured we may as well serve breakfast, too.”
It’s nice to see a small, family-owned business enjoy such success. MentalFloss.com recently sent people to sample Bar-B-Q in all 50 states, and Rip’s was their choice for the best in Indiana. “That was quite an honor, and all we are doing is what we love to do,” Tom proudly explains.
I could see the twinkle in his eye and knew he had even bigger plans for the future. Eventually, he would like to have five more Rip’s in the surrounding area. However, he cautions, “People like what we are doing here, so I would like to have all the food made here and trucked to the other establishments. That way we could maintain quality.”
But that is a little wats down the road. For the immediate future, Tom has purchased the house behind Rip’s and plans to double the seating capacity. “Along with the extra room, it would give us a little more flexibility. My Dad and I play and sing and I would like to offer live acoustic shows with an open mic and rotating bands.”
Rip’s is the little place that’s big on flavor and hospitality. If you are in the Connersville vicinity, it is well worth it to stop by at 302 W. Fifth St. and sample some Bar-B-Q heaven with a generous helping of hospitality on the side.
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