Faith, family and food: new restaurant opens in Madison
“We were just sitting and talking about barbecue, and what does it mean, and what do we want people to think about when they think about our food. We always like to have a good time,” Tickled Pig owner Bobby Ray said.
“So the word tickled just came up. We were talking about people coming in having a good time, laughing and we thought about rib tickling first. If you look at our logo, it says ‘rib tickling flavor.’ So that’s kind of where we got the Tickled Pig. People have a good time, they get tickled, rib tickling, Tickled Pig, so it just kind of morphed into that. We just wanted some words out there that made people think of somebody smiling or some silly pig laughing or something.”
From a name for his first food trailer he established a year and a half ago, to now the name of Madison’s newest family owned and operated business, Ray loves telling the story of how the restaurant came to be.
Ray began cooking barbecue 15 years ago.
“I started in the backyard,” Ray recalled. “I bought smoker, after smoker, after smoker and it got bigger, and bigger and bigger and started doing church functions, that kind of thing is where we started.”
From there, he began taking barbecue classes, even traveling to Illinois last year to participate in Amy Mills barbecue business classes. But it wasn’t until the food trailer came along that things really started to take off.
“When we started doing the festivals and really started traveling last year, that was our weekend and it was just like this is what we should do every day,” Ray said.
But Bobby wasn’t alone then, just as he isn’t in his latest venture. His wife, Tiffany, and sons Jaxon and Camden have been right by his side the whole time. The Tickled Pig opened in the old caboose on W. Washington St. in downtown Madison on Wednesday, June 24.
“I don’t remember much other than that I stayed in the kitchen all day,” Ray said. “It was way more than anticipated, which is good.”
But getting to Wednesday’s opening wasn’t a walk in the park. Ray said he decided to leave his career with AT&T in December and after networking with a friend was able to obtain the location in February.
Then Ray’s plan was to work on through getting the building ready in February and March and open at the end of April or early May. But then the coronavirus hit and things came to a slamming halt.
“We had a lot of things going on, a lot of workers in and out and it kind of stopped, it really did stop,” Ray said. “Then there was about six weeks where I was coming in. I didn’t have anything else, I had committed so I was still coming in every day and I said, ‘We’re going to figure this thing out, we’re going to hold out.’ It’s good that we did.”
But Ray continued to be patient even when other restaurants began opening for takeout in early May.
“I wanted people to come in, that’s the whole deal,” Ray said. “I wanted people to come in, be able to talk to people, see people, meet people. When you’re a brand-new business and you’re doing to-go, that’s tough. I think this is the right time to open.”
When it came to planning the menu, Ray wanted to keep things simple. The Tickled Pig currently offers an appetizer, four meats, four sides and a dessert.
“We didn’t want to have a big menu,” Ray said. “We wanted to do the things we do well. We’re doing a different style barbecue. We’ve got brisket. I know that’s not really something any of the other restaurants around here are doing. We’re cooking Boston butts. We use hickory. We use cherry wood. We cook everything every night, I do, I’m here a lot. The sides, the meat everything is cooked fresh daily. We’re cooking with love.”
Currently, Tickled Pig is open Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. but Ray said that could change depending on demand.