Laying the Foundation
When you call Mark’s Feed Store, a friendly voice will tell you that you have just reached “the best barbecue in Louisville.” Since this restaurant opened in 1988, that title has certainly been earned.
In the mid 80s, after spending 15 years working in the service industry and opening restaurants for other companies, Mark’s Feed Store founder and owner Mark Erwin decided it was time to branch out on his own. He brainstormed multiple concepts before deciding that what Louisville needed was a top-notch barbecue restaurant.
“I had a lot of restaurant and managerial experience but I didn’t have a lot of barbecue experience, so I went down to learn from some old masters in Western Kentucky,” Erwin explained. “I studied with them and brought their techniques back home, where I discovered and created my own sauces.”
Erwin recalls his kitchen at home looking like “a science project” as he worked tirelessly for a full month to create his signature original sauce, which is comprised of a tangy mixture of 26 ingredients including a top-secret blend of 13 spices.
To ensure that the restaurant’s setting was as authentic as the barbecue, Erwin selected a historic building that had housed Hancock’s Feed Store for over half a century as the location for his Middletown restaurant. Old-fashioned pits were installed in the kitchen, using Erwin’s notes and photographs taken during his time with the barbecue masters as blueprints. Erwin still recalls cooking his first-ever pork shoulder in these pits on the eve of the restaurant’s opening.
“That was one of my most tense moments. When it came out, it was just as tender as it could be and the meat was perfect,” Erwin recollects. “That was a huge relief because I knew I had the sauces and I could cook the meat, so now it was just whether or not the customers would come.”
Customers did come to Mark’s, and kept on coming back.
“From the beginning, our goal was to make this a successful place that people would love coming to while positively influencing both the guests and employees,” Erwin said.
Mark’s Feed Store’s mission of serving world-class barbecue in a family-friendly atmosphere sounds simple—and it is. By serving a quality product and taking care of both the employees and customers, Mark’s has established itself as Louisville’s neighborhood barbecue joint.