A stroll through Pioneer BBQ in downtown Nixon sends the enticing aroma of hickory wafting through the nostrils and the yearning to consume mass quantities of smoked sausage.
It’s hard to imagine even the most diehard vegan catching a glimpse of any entreé prepared by new owners Shawn and Amy Collins and being able to resist the temptation to savor a steaming helping of hot, juicy brisket smothered in onions and pickles.
In fact, you could say that after several years working their aprons to the threads while struggling to make ends meet in New York City, Shawn and Amy are savoring their new lives in the peaceful community of Nixon — much the way their new friends and neighbors are savoring their barbecue.
The Collins couple took over Pioneer BBQ in June 2014 after viewing a post from former owner David Walbert on Craigslist. They were living in Manhattan at the time; Amy had been there for five years and Shawn for 11. And it was at Shawn’s southern restaurant that the young couple met — forging a new relationship and, eventually, an exciting new business.
“We found out about Pioneer BBQ through Craigslist,” Shawn said. “I think the former owner got tired of it. I was running a southern restaurant in New York for seven years, and we had been constantly trying to figure out how to move back to Texas for Amy. We were worried we may not be able to make the transition smoothly. But we saw this on Craigslist and said ‘to heck with it.’”
Amy grew up in Pearland, about 30 miles south of Houston; and Shawn is originally from St. Louis, Mo.
“We had been working together for a really long time. We met when I was working at his restaurant,” Amy said. “We found that we worked together really well. After a while we decided we wanted to get out of the city and closer to the country — maybe even buy some land one day.”
Shawn says life in Nixon is much more relaxing than the daily toils in the hustle and bustle of The Big Apple.
“It’s a lot easier of a pace, obviously,” he said. “We can stand here and talk to people here all day. Everybody doesn’t have a food allergy, or they’re not in a big hurry.
“It didn’t feel like we were attaining anything; we were always working,” he said of the New York lifestyle. “You can be 10 times busier but the rent costs 10 times as much, so it’s like at the end of the day you’re in the same place you were in.”
Shawn and Amy say they’re getting a lot of business from people driving through, like from San Antonio or Austin down to the coast. They’re also starting to get more and more local businesses, including frequent deliveries to hungry oil rig workers and employees of Holmes Foods.
“We serve brisket, sausage, chicken and pulled pork,” Shawn said of the staple items of the Pioneer BBQ menu. “But we also like to change up the side orders every once in a while to mix things up. We also plan to grow our own vegetables and be able to serve them as well.”
Despite some folks’ claim that the Eagle Ford Shale is going away, the Collinses maintain that they’re here to stay. They’re in this for the long haul, and knew from the start that they would need to build a local fan base and not just cater to the whims of customers on the fringes.
“We hear horror stories about the oilfield all the time, but we’re not going anywhere,” Shawn said. “Rather than just focus on getting business from that, we’re getting involved in the community and bonding with the people.”
All in all, the thing Shawn and Amy say they like most about running Pioneer BBQ is working together. Not only that, but they enjoy being able to take a break and sit outside and “chew the fat” with friends and neighbors.
“We get to hang out with each other,” Shawn said, “and the same people multiple times a week. Interacting with ourselves and our customers is what it’s all about. We like seeing our neighbors and having time to talk to them. We didn’t have that kind of luxury in New York, but here in Nixon we do. The people here are great and it’s really awesome to serve them and hang out with them.”